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Is China Using Cyber Attacks to Sabotage the Philippines?

Several layers deep into one of Stuxnet’s configuration blocks, an 8-byte variable outlined in red appears to be the date (6/24/2012) that the program de-activated itself from further replicating onto USB thumb drives worldwide. Photo: securelist.com

n July 12, 2016, shortly after the arbitral tribunal ruled in favor of the Philippines, internet access for many Filipinos was inexplicably lost. And for several days thereafter, once stable online access fluctuated on and off to the consternation of thousands of Pinoy internet users who found it difficult to go online. Coincidence? Maybe, but the timing seemed highly unusual.

For readers who have seen the newly released documentary, Zero Days, they understand that what Filipinos experienced last July was more likely a cyber attack than just a coincidence. In the documentary, filmmaker Alex Gibney depicts how the CIA and Israel's Mossad intelligence services teamed up to create the Stuxnet worm, a cyber weapon that was used against Iran's nuclear weapons development effort. A highly sophisticated piece of malware, Stuxnet spread out over the internet to eventually find it's way into computers used in Iran's nuclear program. The cyber code clandestinely caused Iranian centrifuges in Natanz to behave erratically frustrating the country's efforts at enriching uranium and thereby delaying Iran's efforts to develop a nuclear weapon. Many Iranian scientists and engineers were fired from their jobs before their government eventually figured out what was going on.

Since Stuxnet, governments all over the world, including China, have been busy developing their own cyber-warfare programs and countermeasures against Stuxnet-like attacks. Unfortunately the Philippines appears to be so behind-the-curve in this regard, we wouldn't know a cyber attack if it was staring us in the face. But those in the know—aware of China's highly advanced and extensive cyber-warfare program—find it inconceivable that Chinese government hackers have not already penetrated most levels of the Philippines' cyber infrastructure, and are ready and able to bring it crashing down when told to do so. The internet, cell phones, government communications, and military command and control capabilities can all go "dark" at a moments notice.

Is the Duterte Administration undermining the UN Arbitral Tribunal's decision?

 In other fronts, China does not even need to use sophisticated cyber-weapons against the Philippines. According to detractors, the current administration's apparent disregard for human rights plays right into China's hands. The argument China will surely make against honoring the UN tribunal's judgment against them in the South China Sea will be that the country that brought the case against them—the Philippines, itself does not adhere to UN human rights laws. These detractors further point out that the extra-judicial killings of scores of Filipinos that President Rodrigo Duterte appears to be cheering on, or at the very least condoning, is causing many concerned individuals around the world to raise their voices against such acts. When the Philippines refuses to follow universally accepted principles like due process and an individual's presumed innocence until proven guilty, it's protestations against China's refusal to respect the Hague Arbitral Tribunal's decision begin to ring hollow.

A woman cradles her husband, a suspected drug dealer, who was killed by Philippine vigilante groups. Photo: Getty Images

Duterte's winning the presidency is most likely a blessing as far as the Communist Chinese are concerned. Not only does his administration show a shallow understanding of the South China Sea issue, but the extra-judicial way with which Duterte is waging his war on drugs significantly undermines the Philippines' image as a law-abiding country. Published 8/8/2016

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