China is developing dangerous cyber attack tools that could knock a nation's infrastructure offline using data stolen during high-profile hacks, according to the US Department of Defence (DoD).
The DoD made the claim in a report entitled Military and Security Developments Involving the People's Republic of China 2015 (PDF).
"China is using its cyber espionage capabilities to support intelligence collection against the US diplomatic, economic and defence industrial base sectors that support US national defence programmes," the report states.
"Chinese offensive cyber space operations could support anti-access/area-denial by targeting critical nodes to disrupt adversary networks throughout the region.
"People's Liberation Army [PLA] researchers advocate that the key to seizing ‘cyber space superiority' is to deter or stop an adversary by developing and employing offensive cyber space capabilities."
The DoD said it believes that the operations are part of a strategy designed to help the PLA in three ways.
"First, they allow data collection for intelligence and potential offensive cyber operation purposes," read the report.
"Second, they can be employed to constrain an adversary's actions or slow response time by targeting network-based logistics, communications and commercial activities.
"Third, they can serve as a force multiplier when coupled with kinetic attacks during times of crisis or conflict."
The report highlighted a wave of 2014 cyber attacks targeting US systems as proof of its theory.
"In a single year, actors associated with the Chinese government successfully penetrated US Transportation Command contractors about 20 times. These intrusions were focused on accessing networks and exfiltrating information," read the report.
The news follows widespread concerns about China's cyber activities. Researchers at FireEye reported in April that China was involved in a sophisticated hacker group that mounted a coordinated 'APT30' campaign capable of infiltrating air gapped systems.
Google clashed with China in April over the Chinese certificate authority's distribution of unauthorised digital certificates that could be exploited to spy on Chrome users.
China is just one of many countries accused of targeting US systems. US secretary of defence Ash Carter revealed in April that Russian hackers successfully breached DoD systems by exploiting an unpatched flaw in one of the department's legacy systems.
The US is also far from innocent in cyber space. Documents leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2013 proved that the US National Security Agency (NSA) is siphoning vast amounts of web user data from companies including Facebook, Twitter, Apple, Microsoft and Google.
US secretary of homeland security Jeh Johnson moved to allay businesses' NSA snooping concerns while announcing the opening of a cyber security base of operations in Silicon Valley in April.
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