WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of lawmakers wants to apply U.S. cybersecurity technologies and techniques in defense of Taiwan, a target of Chinese influence campaigns, digital onslaughts and potential military takeover.
Sens. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., and Mike Rounds, R-S.D., and Reps. Chrissy Houlahan, D-Pa., and Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., on April 20 introduced the Taiwan Cybersecurity Resiliency Act, which would require the Pentagon to intensify its cyber outreach and collaboration with the much-discussed independent island.
Such expanded partnership would involve training exercises and the eradication of malicious cyber activity, according to Rosen, who mentioned the legislation in a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing featuring the the top U.S. military commander in the Indo-Pacific, Navy Adm. John Aquilino.
China considers Taiwan a renegade province and has vowed to retake it by force, if necessary. The U.S. has for decades supplied Taiwan with military hardware and software worth billions of dollars. The Taiwanese government has previously said its agencies are peppered by thousands of cyberattacks each week.
Rosen on Thursday said the U.S. is “acutely aware of the threat that China poses in the cyber domain,” and described Taiwan as Beijing’s “testing ground,” language also used to described the Russia-Ukraine dynamic. Gallagher, who leads the House special committee on China, in a statement said the bill would help “arm Taiwan to the teeth in the cyber domain.”
U.S. officials consider China a premier cyber hazard, alongside Russia. The Biden administration’s national cybersecurity strategy, released early last month, labels China as the most persistent digital threat, capable of twisting narratives and siphoning intellectually property, and Russia as a foreign meddler, a haven for hackers.
Invigorating cybersecurity at home and abroad is critical, according to Aquilino, who is responsible for all U.S. military activities in the Indo-Pacific.
With the help of Cyber Command, he told Rosen, the U.S. is working “to strengthen ally, partner and friend networks, so that they’re secure and that they can have a confidence that the things they’re putting out in their own networks are not being read or impacted by other nations.”
INDOPACOM’s fiscal 2024 unfunded priorities list, totaling nearly $3.5 billion, includes $184 million for offensive cyber capabilities, $90 million for cybersecurity and network hardening, and $39 million for the so-called mission partner environment, which allows data from a range of militaries to be collated, secured, shared and acted upon.
Military leaders submit the unfunded inventories, often referred to as wish lists, to Congress to highlight projects that did not make it into the White House budget blueprint but would be useful, should money be available.
“To talk to those allies and partners right now, I have 13 separate networks; that’s costly, they’re at risk,” Aquilino said. “What we’re attempting to deliver is a single pane of glass that allows us to communicate securely, in a cyber-safe way, with all of our partners across the region, no matter who, at the level at which we can share.”
Colin Demarest is a reporter at C4ISRNET, where he covers military networks, cyber and IT. Colin previously covered the Department of Energy and its National Nuclear Security Administration — namely Cold War cleanup and nuclear weapons development — for a daily newspaper in South Carolina. Colin is also an award-winning photographer.