China syndromeChina deploys secure computer operating system

Published 13 May 2009

China has installed a secure operating system known as “Kylin” on government and military computers designed to be impenetrable to U.S. military and intelligence agencies

Physician, heal thyself. Well, here is a case of a physician doing just that. China is using many government agencies, private companies, and a legion of individual hackers to hack government and private industry networks around the world. It wants to keep others, however, from penetrating its own networks, so it has installed a secure operating system known as “Kylin” on government and military computers designed to be impenetrable to U.S. military and intelligence agencies.

World Tribune reports that the existence of the secure operating system was disclosed to Congress during recent hearings which included new details on how China’s government is preparing to wage cyberwarfare with the United States.

Kevin Coleman, a private security specialist who discussed Kylin during the 30 April hearing of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, said its deployment is significant because it has “hardened” key Chinese servers.

Coleman told the Times that Kylin has been under development since 2001 and the first Chinese computers to use it are government and military servers that were converted beginning in 2007. “This action also made our offensive cybercapabilities ineffective against them, given the cyberweapons were designed to be used against Linux, UNIX and Windows,” he said, citing three popular computer operating systems.

U.S. offensive cyberwar capabilities have been mainly focused on getting into Chinese government and military computers outfitted with less secure operating systems like Microsoft’s Windows. Coleman said Chinese state or state-affiliated entities are on a wartime footing in seeking electronic information from the U.S. government, contractors, and industrial computer networks.

The Chinese have also developed a secure microprocessor which, unlike U.S.-made chips, is known to be hardened against external access by a hacker or automated malicious software, Coleman said. “If you add a hardened microchip and a hardened operating system, that makes a really good solid platform for defending infrastructure,” he said. “In the cyberarena, China is playing chess while we’re playing checkers,” Coleman said, adding that China is equal to the United States and Russia in military cyberwarfare. “This is a three-horse race, and it is a dead heat,” he said.

The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission warned last year that China has developed a sophisticated cyber warfare program and stepped up its capacity to penetrate US computer networks to extract sensitive information. “China is aggressively pursuing cyber warfare capabilities that may provide it with an asymmetric advantage against the United States,” the commission said in the report released in November.

China rejected the findings of the commission and has also dismissed more recent U.S. newspaper reports that Chinese hackers were behind a cyber attack on computers linked to the Pentagon’s Joint Strike Fighter project.