The FBI has successfully thwarted the hacking endeavors of a Chinese state-backed group targeting critical public infrastructure such as the power grid and pipelines, according to the agency’s director. Speaking during a U.S. House of Representatives committee hearing on cyber threats posed by China, FBI director Christopher Wray informed lawmakers about the dismantling of the “Volt Typhoon” group, which allegedly infiltrated numerous aging office routers to acquire data on US assets.
Addressing a US congressional committee, Wray asserted that China was strategically laying the groundwork to disrupt vital US infrastructure in the event of hostilities. The “Volt Typhoon” hacking activities were initially exposed in the US in May, following Microsoft’s warning about the group targeting public assets and government email accounts.
The FBI disclosed that the group aimed at a wide spectrum of the country’s crucial infrastructure, including water treatment systems, the power grid, transportation networks, oil and gas pipelines, and telecommunication systems. Wray highlighted that the state-sponsored Chinese group had successfully installed malware, gaining control over numerous outdated routers linked to these infrastructure assets.
“The Volt Typhoon malware enabled China to conceal pre-operational reconnaissance and network exploitation against critical infrastructure,” Wray stated during the congressional committee on US-China competition. He emphasized that this indicated the hackers’ intent to “wreak chaos and cause real-world harm to American citizens and communities” when deemed necessary by China.
Cybersecurity experts in the US had previously warned of China targeting infrastructure to potentially disrupt communications in the event of a conflict. The chairman of the Select Committee on Competition Between the US and China, during Wednesday’s hearing, likened this to the “cyberspace equivalent of placing bombs on American bridges and power plants.”
While the committee’s allegations have faced criticism from Beijing, which denies involvement in cybercrime, Wray detailed the extent of Beijing’s resources dedicated to cyber warfare. He noted that China’s hacking program surpassed that of every other major nation combined, and the FBI’s cyber agents were outnumbered by their Chinese counterparts at a ratio of 50 to 1.