The Biden administration believes China has implanted malware in key US power and communications networks in a “ticking time bomb” that could disrupt the military in the event of a conflict, The New York Times reported Saturday.
The Times, quoting US military, intelligence and security officials, said the malware potentially gave China’s People’s Liberation Army the ability to disrupt US military operations if Beijing were to move against Taiwan at some point.
The systems affected, the Times said, could allow China not only to cut off water, power and communications to US military bases, but also to homes and businesses across the United States.
The report comes two months after Microsoft warned that state-sponsored Chinese hackers had infiltrated critical US infrastructure networks.
Microsoft singled out Guam, a US Pacific territory with a vital military outpost, as one target but said malicious activity had also been detected elsewhere in the United States.
It said the stealthy attack, carried out since mid-2021, was likely aimed at hampering the United States in the event of a regional conflict.
Authorities in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Britain warned at the same time that Chinese hacking was likely taking place globally, affecting an extensive range of infrastructure.
Discovery of the malware, the Times said, sparked a series of meetings in the White House Situation Room involving top military, intelligence and national security officials in an effort to track down and eradicate the code.
The newspaper quoted one congressional official as saying the malware operation amounted to “a ticking time bomb.”
The White House issued a statement Friday that made no mention of China or military bases.
“The Biden administration is working relentlessly to defend the United States from any disruptions to our critical infrastructure, including by coordinating interagency efforts to protect water systems, pipelines, rail and aviation systems, among others,” said Adam Hodge, acting spokesman for the National Security Council.
He added that President Joe Biden “has also mandated rigorous cybersecurity practices for the first time.”
Reports of the malware operation come at a particularly strained point in US-China relations, with China aggressively asserting its claim that Taiwan is Chinese territory and the US seeking to ban sales of sophisticated semiconductors to Beijing.