China is being accused of hacking into the computer system of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in the midst of a hearing on a territorial dispute in the South China Sea. The computer system crashed during the hearing.
Cyber security experts at U.S. security company ThreatConnect Inc., say an analysis of the software and infrastructure used on the site shows it was infected with malware by someone in China. The hack occurred in July as the Philippines were challenging China’s claim to more than 80 percent of the South China Sea,which Manila says encroaches on its exclusive economic zone.
The director of the International Cyber Policy Centre at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute in Canberra, Tobias Feakin says, “Whenever you see island-dispute issues flare up you also see cyber activities spike as well. If it is being used in coordination with the prodding that the Chinese do in a physical way, it surely shows you see a strategic advantage in the use of that power.”
Along with the increase in coastguard and military ships and planes, cyber espionage is emerging as a new weapon in disputes over the South China Sea, which is a strategically important seaway for global trade between the Indian and Pacific oceans.
Cyber experts say the hackers most probably intended to access documents and other information which China’s territory opponents were using in the legal case to determine ownership, and the crash of the computer system was not necessarily deliberate. They say it could have been a result of a security system shutting it down after it noticed an intruder.
China watchers say that over the last year and a half, China has started building what could be considered military aided structures on reefs in the area, which Vietnam and the Philippines, also lay claims to. The disputes have pulled in the U.S. has been pulled into the territorial disputes, with its warships patrolling the waters in the name of navigational freedom.