The US State Department warned on Thursday (May 25) that China was capable of launching cyber attacks against critical infrastructure, including oil and gas pipelines and rail systems, after researchers discovered a Chinese hacking group had been spying on such networks.
A multi-nation alert issued Wednesday revealed the Chinese cyber-espionage campaign had been aimed at military and government targets in the United States.
The Chinese government has rejected assertions that its spies are going after Western targets, calling the warning issued by the United States and its allies a "collective disinformation campaign".
US officials said they were still in the process of getting their arms around the threat.
"We’ve had at least one location that we didn’t know about since the hunt guide was released come forward with data and information," Rob Joyce, the US National Security Agency's (NSA) cybersecurity director, told Reuters. The agency disclosed technical details earlier to help critical service providers detect the spying.
The US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) separately said it was working to understand "the breadth of potential intrusions and associated impacts".
That would help it "provide assistance where needed, and more effectively understand the tactics undertaken by this adversary", CISA's executive assistant director, Eric Goldstein, told Reuters.
Part of the challenge in defending against this espionage work is that it's more covert than regular spy operations, according to researchers and officials.
"In these cases the adversary is often using legitimate credentials and legitimate network administration tools to gain access to execute their objectives on a target network," Goldstein said. "Many traditional methods of detection, such as antivirus, will not find these intrusions."
Microsoft analysts who identified the campaign, which they dubbed Volt Typhoon, said it "could disrupt critical communications infrastructure between the United States and Asia region during future crises" - a nod to escalating US-China tensions over Taiwan and other issues.
"The US intelligence community as...