Taiwan Military Expert Warns of Potential for Chinese Regime to Damage Island’s Internet System

January 31, 2019 Updated: January 31, 2019

Taiwanese experts are concerned that China can cut off the island’s internet connection by destroying undersea cables.

The Institute for National Defense and Security Research, a think tank funded by the Taiwan government, published research related to cybersecurity in its latest monthly bulletin on defense issues.

Tzeng Yi-suo, acting director of the Institute of Cyber Warfare and Information Security within the think tank, said that China could launch cyberattacks on Taiwan through two means. One is to directly sabotage undersea cables that connect Taiwan’s internet with the rest of the world. These cables, laid on the seabed less than 300 meters (about 984 feet) deep, have four landing stations in Taiwan, according to the research published on Jan. 10.

The Chinese regime considers Taiwan part of its territory and has never renounced the use of military force to unite Taiwan with the mainland, despite the fact that Taiwan is a de facto independent country, with its own democratically elected government, military, and currency.

“The likelihood of the People’s Republic of China damaging or corrupting submarine cables and related infrastructure that connect Taiwan to the outside world should not be underestimated nor overlooked by the international community,” said Tzeng in the monthly report.

In addition, China could pressure the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a nonprofit that oversees internet domains around the world, to change Taiwan’s root domain of .tw to China’s .cn.

The change of the root domain wouldn’t just directly affect Taiwan’s domain name in the international network community, but more importantly, China would be able to hijack the “Border Gateway Protocol,” so that all data entering and leaving Taiwan may be collected and monitored, Tzeng said.

In a Jan. 27 report by Japanese magazine Nikkei Asia Review, Tzeng also spoke about China’s capabilities to meddle in elections via the internet, as exemplified by Beijing’s subversion of the Nov. 24, 2018, elections in Taiwan.

China uses Taiwan like a laboratory to test and perfect its cyberwar and propaganda tactics, Tzeng was quoted as saying.

Currently, Tzeng said China’s ability to influence U.S. politics isn’t as good as that of Russia. But, “as they accumulate knowledge and test their algorithms, I think within two years, we will probably see China having the capability to use cyber tools to intervene in the U.S. election,” Tzeng said, in time for the 2020 presidential elections.

Jessica Drun, a senior analyst at SOS International, a Washington-based think tank, also came to a similar conclusion in a November report. She pointed out that China has demonstrated familiarity with how to influence Taiwanese social media. There was an influx of fake news and internet rumors during the local elections in Taiwan, aimed at swaying election results in favor of pro-Beijing political candidates.

“Chinese disinformation campaigns against Taiwan could be used as a blueprint against other democracies, particularly in sowing greater discord between segments of the population,” Drun told Nikkei.