China vs Philippines, cyber war or hacktivism?

Pierluigi Paganini May 03, 2012

In this period the cyber space is a place in full swing, international attention is focused on Iran and its quarrel with the West, but other silent battles are being fought. In the last month has been registered a surprising activity that opposes China and Philippines, continuous and reciprocal attacks attack to the sound of bits and byte have been conduced, are we facing with a cyber conflict?

The Chinese engagement in cyberspace isn’t a surprise, it’s new the discover of the aggressive approach of Philippine cyber army that has decided to measures its capabilities with the giant China.

Which are the reasons of the attacks?

Origin of the battle a territorial dispute between China and Philippines over the Scarborough Shoal and the Spratlys Island.  The crisis has been accentuated by a Chinese military action that sent military vessel in the area on April 7, 2012. It is the fifth times where China intruded the Philippine Territory since June 2011, its military has cross Philippine vessels in the following places:

  • Recto Bank
  • Rajah Soliman Reef
  • Quirino Atoll
  • Escoda Shoal
  • Panatag Shoal / Scarborough Shoal


China is interested to the territories and has proposed the pretext of protecting its fishermen and seismic surveyors.  The real interest seems to be to trespass into Philippine offshore oilfields and to claim exclusivity of fishing in those areas close to the country.  In contrast to Manila’s stance, China has decide to adopt a military option moving its naval fleet to send a clear message not only to the Philippines but also the other Asian members such as Japan, South Korea, India, Australia, and America of course.

Let us see the time line of the events proposed by the precious colleague Paolo Passeri on his blog.

Prior to the April 20 there were no attacks recorded, but suddenly a group of Chinese hackers have targeted the University of the Philippines defacing the website ( with a map with Chinese characters, reproducing the Scarborough Shoal. The event has triggered a series of reciprocal attacks despite the invitation to ease the tension made by Philippines Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte. Government of Manila is convinced that similar attacks could have critical effect on the difficult relation with China compromising the diplomatic dialogue.

To date no attacks have brought significant damage to infrastructures, limiting to deface opponents web sites, however, it is expected an escalation of the phenomena and of operations that can cause more serious damage.

When I speak of cyber warfare and cyber attacks I always think on how crucial is the defense of critical infrastructures. Chines Government has the capabilities to infiltrate foreign networks attacking focal points of the enemy country.  We have learnt that a cyber weapons could cause similar damage of a conventional weapon,  due the exposed reflections I believe the hacking operation moved against Philippines are made by non state-sponsored groups.

Another hypothesis, which I believe, however implausible, is that the Beijing government intends to measure the actual capacity computer opponents, but the noise produced with these attacks will not let me lean towards this possibility.

A final consideration is far from negligible impact of the phenomenon of hacktivism a precarious situation that let me think that the attacks against the Chinese cannot be linked to the Beijing government. In the last months Anonymous groups has declared war to China and its media censorship promoting the operation called #OpChinaDown.

Attacks against China and related to the Philippine situation seems have involved other groups of hacktivist linked to Anonymous, like PrivateX, in operation called #OccupyPhilippines. It’s clear that for every government, also for Chinese one, the cyber fight against hacktivism is expensive.

So, why Chinese Government has attacked The Philippines in cyberspace attracting attention of hacktivism?

It’s clear that the real origin is different.

I conclude by recalling that in spite of things like this may seem minor, give us a clear picture of the real situation of conflicts and disputes between people. As I have often stressed, analyzing cyberspace it is now possible to understand the real political intentions of a country.

Pierluigi Paganini

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