AMID all the fevered talk and high-tech details surrounding the “cyber cold war” that China seems to be waging—and perhaps winning—against America and many other nations, there is something refreshingly nostalgic about new accusations that China is, in the high style of the actual cold war, jamming the BBC’s shortwave radio broadcasts.
“The BBC has received reports that World Service English shortwave frequencies are being jammed in China,” the British broadcaster said in a statement on February 25th.
“Though it is not possible at this stage to attribute the source of the jamming definitively, the extensive and co-ordinated efforts are indicative of a well-resourced country such as China,” the BBC statement added. China has yet to respond officially to the accusation.
The BBC’s language echoed the conclusions of a report issued last week by an American information-security firm, Mandiant, which detailed a vast and sophisticated computer hacking operation based in a nondescript building in Shanghai.
Mandiant said it could not definitively prove that the cyber-hacking was sponsored by China’s military and government, but it dismissed any other explanation as extremely unlikely. There can be little doubt that America, like many other countries, conducts its fair share of illicit computer snooping around the world. Indeed, would it come as a surprise to anyone if we were to learn that, somewhere in the neighbourhood of Mandiant’s headquarters, in Alexandria, Virginia, an equally nondescript building housed an equally sophisticated and well-funded team of government-sponsored hackers?
The potential impact of China’s alleged computer hacking far outweighs that of any news about radio jamming. In his recent State of the Union address, Barack Obama refrained from mentioning China specifically, but warned that “foreign countries and companies swipe our corporate secrets” and that “our enemies are also seeking the ability to sabotage our power grid, our financial institutions and our air-traffic control systems.”
That would be far more ominous than any attempt to block listeners in China from listening to BBC news reports read aloud in English. Anyone in China who is able to understand such a broadcast in the first place is also likely able to read all kinds of news and information in many other ways. It has been years since I fired up my own shortwave radio in Beijing, or found myself within earshot of anyone else firing up his.
According to computer experts, the fact that Mandiant and other investigators have been able to learn so much about the hacking operation based in Shanghai reveals a certain degree of sloppiness or ineptitude on the part of the Chinese hackers. But the sheer scope of that allegedly Chinese operation bespeaks an impressive level of ambition.
This week’s news about shortwave jamming is only a fresh reminder that—in its cyber-snooping as in other endeavours—China tends to keep an eye on the lower rungs of the technological ladder, even as it climbs ever higher.
(Picture credit: Wikimedia Commons)
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