|New department dedicated to protecting information security follows creation of US cyber command
Tania Branigan in Beijing
A Nato base in Tallinn, Estonia, established to combat cybercrime. Photograph: Christian Sinibaldi
The People's Liberation Army has unveiled its first department dedicated to tackling cyber war threats and protecting information security, Chinese media reported today.
The move comes just over a year after the United States created a cyber command.
The PLA Daily
said the military announced the creation of the Information Security Base on Monday, giving few more details in its brief report.
But an officer in the General Staff headquarters, which directly oversees the new department, told the Global Times
(state run): "It is a 'defensive' base for information security, not an offensive headquarters for cyber war."
He said the base would be used to gather online information and "build up walls" to safeguard confidential military information.
Ni Lexiong, a Shanghai-based military analyst, told the South China Morning Post: "The USCYBERCOM aims at coping with hacker attacks as well as other cyber attacks, which means the internet will become another key battlefield in tomorrow's world.
"It's a very important message to the PLA because the army did not have a united and centralised management system to command its information technology centres in different forces."
Christian Le Miere, senior Asia analyst for Jane's Country Risk, said: "Every major military has to be concerned about cyberwar.
"There was maybe some form of taboo [about setting up a dedicated centre], but as soon as the US does it, everyone says 'we can have one too'."
Le Miere said such security issues had gained attention after Estonia suffered cyberattacks which some blamed on Russia and Chinese faced allegations of state complicity in attacks on US sites.
"It is seen as an increasingly useful arena for competition and quasi-military espionage," he said.
A recent report warned that Nato was increasingly vulnerable to cyberwarfare and US deputy defence secretary William Lynn said in a speech last year: "We know ... that both Russia and China have the capability to disrupt elements of other nations' information infrastructure."
Discussing attacks on American governmental, military and private networks, he said the Pentagon had traced some back to China but "[could] not attribute whether it's a private, public, whether it's military, intelligence, industry or criminal."
But China also feels vulnerable. Earlier this year, Professor Fang Binxing, president of the Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications, said the US was "without question the world's foremost power in cyber-based attacks and defence", and that Chinese capabilities remained very backward.
An official with the National Computer Network Emergency Response Team accused foreign countries of "rumour mongering and overstating the cyber threat from Chinese hackers ... covering up their political purpose of building up a cyber army".
Officials have denied any state involvement in hacking and said China is one of the biggest victims.
The Chinese military recently banned its soldiers from blogging or setting up their own websites – even when on leave – with Wan Long, the political commissar of a regiment telling the PLA Daily: "The internet is complicated and we should guard against online traps."