China’s AI-Backed Cyber Theft Raises Red Flags for U.S. Officials
Chinese cyber espionage activities, harnessing the power of artificial intelligence (AI), are on the rise, prompting growing concerns within U.S. intelligence agencies. Previously, industrial espionage activities predominantly targeted semiconductor technology, but they are now extending their reach into the realm of AI. The substantial volumes of data acquired through cyberattacks are increasingly subjected to AI-driven analysis techniques to extract specific information about the intended target. This advancement in AI capabilities has unlocked a level of information analysis that was previously unattainable, sounding alarm bells about an escalating security threat.
On the 25th (local time), the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported that U.S. intelligence agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), are concerned about China’s cyber espionage activities using AI. The Wall Street Journal reported that in October, FBI Director Christopher Wray convened a meeting with Western intelligence agencies and representatives from the IT industry. The focus of this gathering was to engage in a detailed discussion regarding the issue of China’s AI-enabled hacking activities.
The target of China’s industrial espionage operations is also expanding from hardware such as semiconductors to AI. Recently, there have been suspicions of confidential information leaking to China from OpenAI, the developer of ChatGPT, prompting the FBI to investigate. The stolen AI technology from the U.S. is being used to analyze American data. In a February press conference in Silicon Valley, Director Wray mentioned that “AI could be an ‘amplifier’ that strengthens China’s hacking” and that “China is improving its hacking operations using U.S. AI technology.”
A major concern for the United States is the possibility that China is employing AI to analyze the personal information of American citizens, which it has acquired through hacking activities. Brad Smith, the Vice President of Microsoft (MS), noted that there have been indications in the past two years of China designating specific attack targets. He referred to this as evidence of China’s use of AI to refine and pinpoint its targeting strategies.
China has already secured billions of pieces of personal information through hacking. This includes files of more than 20 million current and former government employees and their families from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and information from hotel chain Marriott, credit information company Equifax, and U.S. health insurance company Elevance Health (formerly Anthem). The leaked data includes basic personal information such as contact details, debt status, medical records, and biometric information such as fingerprints.
Even if each piece of information seems meaningless, if AI analyzes it and reveals correlations, it can easily identify American bureaucrats and intelligence agents who handle confidential information and even track their movements. Glenn Gerstell, a former legal advisor to the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA), warned that “China could use AI to build information files on almost every American, from health records to credit card information, passport numbers, and details about their families.”
By. Min Hyuk Yoon