According to the FBI director’s testimony before lawmakers, the FBI has successfully thwarted the hacking endeavors of a Chinese state-sponsored group named “Volt Typhoon,” which had been targeting critical public infrastructure such as the power grid and pipelines.
Christopher Wray informed a US congressional committee that the FBI executed a campaign to dismantle the said hacking group, which had exploited vulnerabilities in hundreds of aging office routers to access data related to US assets.
Wray highlighted the deliberate efforts of China in laying the groundwork to potentially cripple key infrastructure systems in the United States during a hostile conflict.
The hacking activities of the “Volt Typhoon” group initially came to public attention in the US last May when Microsoft issued a warning about the group targeting various public assets, including government email accounts.
The FBI’s revelation unveiled the extensive scope of the group’s targets, ranging from water treatment systems to the power grid, transportation systems, oil and gas pipelines, and telecommunication networks.
Wray explained that the Chinese state-sponsored group successfully installed malware on numerous outdated routers connected to critical infrastructure assets. The “Volt Typhoon” malware facilitated activities such as pre-operational reconnaissance and network exploitation against the targeted critical infrastructure.
Wray emphasized that these hacking activities indicated a readiness to cause chaos and real-world harm to American citizens and communities when deemed necessary by China. He stressed that the potential targets were not limited to political or military entities, broadening the concern to include critical infrastructure.
In the context of cybersecurity, experts in the US have previously cautioned that China is strategically targeting infrastructure to lay the groundwork for disrupting communications in the event of a conflict.
During a hearing of the Select Committee on Competition Between the US and China, the chairman likened China’s cyber activities to placing bombs on American bridges and power plants in cyberspace.
Despite these allegations, the Chinese government has not yet responded to the accusations and has consistently denied engaging in state-sponsored cyber warfare against other countries. China has also countered such claims by labeling the US as “the world’s biggest hacking empire and global cyber thief.”
The ongoing accusations and counter-accusations have led to criticism of the committee by Beijing, which urges the committee to discard ideological bias and adopt a non-zero-sum Cold War mentality.
However, Wray provided detailed insights into Beijing’s substantial resources dedicated to cyber warfare, highlighting the scale of China’s hacking program as surpassing that of every other major nation combined.
Additionally, he pointed out the significant numerical advantage of Chinese cyber agents over their FBI counterparts, outnumbering them by a ratio of 50 to 1.