Imagine you are the Chinese government, and you read the various Snowden stories this summer. What are you going to do?
For argument’s sake, let’s pretend that the Chinese government was perfectly innocent and totally oblivious to any of this before.
I cannot imagine that they would do anything other than immediately start a crash program to build their own capabilities to match the supposed US/Western capabilities. They will do that irrespective of whether or not any of the Snowden stuff is actually true, how widespread it is, or how effective or ineffective Congress is in overseeing it etc. They simply cannot sit by, they’d be insane if they did. They will say: it doesn’t matter whether the West has backdoors into the internet now, or will have them in a few years, or what legislation Congress may or may not pass. The ability to eavesdrop on every communication on the internet is very achievable for Western governments and we need to counter them, and counter them immediately.
Now how would you counter them if you were the Chinese?
First, you’d try and improve your defenses. This means you’d invest massively into getting rid of western software. No more Windows, Office, Cisco routing software etc. You may be willing to run Linux, but likely would have a well-paid organization review and cleanly rebuild everything before you let anything near anywhere critical.
On the offensive side, I think you’d like to root / pwn as many devices in the West as you could get your hands on, just like the US gov’t seems to be doing to you and everywhere. Everything and anything, from backbone routers to mobile phones. But there’s negligible amounts of Chinese software running in the West, so backdooring that won’t work.
However, China produces most of the world’s hardware. Adding another 10 million transistors onto a chip may be hard to spot if the chip passes all production line tests. Changing the firmware in hard drives to do more than what the hard drive needs to do seems easy. Having an Ethernet card or WiFi chip look just a bit more at the data it transmits than it should is likely not a very hard thing to do. The Chinese can strongarm their manufacturers just as easily as the West, and perhaps much more easily. And achieve many of the same results, perhaps even better ones: you can always wipe the software on your device, but you can’t get rid of microscopic bugs in the hardware that you can’t see.
So, go out today and buy that shiny new device, designed in America, and manufactured in China. It will have Western-backdoored software running on Chinese-backdoored hardware, and they will slug it out. In your pocket.
(Okay, maybe not today; I have no idea when. But if not today, then soon, the logic is simply too strong.)
And that does not even count the Indians, the Russians, and so many others. They will find a way and soon come to a device near you with their own clever hacks and modifications. They will slug it out in your pocket, on your desktop, in your WiFi router, in your TV, in your printer, in your car, on your hard drive, thumb drive, the cell phone base towers and in every piece of electronics from here to and including the Facebook data centers and the like.
Welcome to the end of perimeter defense. Global war has come to your pocket.