Taiwan and the United States are holding a joint cybersecurity drill on the island this week, and the first international cyber exercises with US participation has a stated opposing force – cyberattacks from China and North Korea.

During the five-day event, some members from the cybersecurity team and other units fighting cybercrimes for the Taiwanese military would act as an adversarial force for the drill to target servers of the army as well as governmental departments and tertiary institutions. 

The simulation would see red teams made up of foreign and Taiwanese specialists launch simulated attacks against the servers and websites of the Taiwanese government and financial institutions, while a blue team of Taiwanese experts would try to detect and defend against those threats.

The biennial Cyber Offensive and Defensive Exercises were launched in 2013 and this year’s event has attracted participants from 10 countries including the US, Australia, Japan, Malaysia and the Czech Republic.

A white-hat hacker participates in the drill, with his devices displaying the home page of Taiwan’s Presidential Office and fighter jets in service with the Taiwanese military. Photo: Facebook via United Daily News

Speaking at the opening ceremony, American Institute in Taiwan Deputy Director Raymond Greene said this year’s exercises would herald a new frontier in the ever-deepening cyber cooperation between the US and Taiwan to strengthen cyberdefenses and international cooperation.

Greene told the audience that the AIT, Washington’s de-facto embassy on the self-ruled island, had been working closely with Taiwanese authorities to bring the island into the US Department of Homeland Security’s Automated Indicator Sharing system, which shares cyber threat indicators as well as intelligence.

He said that the biggest threats today would no longer be troops landing on beaches, but efforts by “malign actors” to use the openness of societies and networks to attack industries, democratic institutions and the integrity of critical infrastructure.

The drill would also include training and exercises organized by the US government on North Korea’s cyberthreats and hackers, live exercises and a discussion on lessons learned, according to the AIT.

Meanwhile, Taiwan’s Department of Cybersecurity Director-General Howard Jyan revealed in his address that Taiwan had been particularly threatened by such attacks, with its public sector facing an average of 30 million cyberattacks per month in 2018, though only a small fraction of them resulted in theft or tampering with confidential or sensitive information.

When pressed by reporters, he estimated that about half of these attacks came from China, mainly carried out by the Chinese military.

Last year, there were reports claiming that the central Chinese city of Wuhan could be home to a contingent of People’s Liberation Army hackers tasked with paralyzing the servers of the Taiwanese military as well as those used by the office of Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen and stealing documents stored there.

Separately, in a report detailing Washington’s Indo-Pacific strategy published last week, the US Department of State reaffirmed its support for Taiwan developing an effective deterrence and national defense capability.

The report, titled A Free and Open Indo-Pacific: Advancing a Shared Vision, was released at the Indo-Pacific Business Forum on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit held in Bangkok.

In the 32-page report, the US State Department highlighted several cooperative initiatives between the US and Taiwan, including a joint effort between Taipei and the AIT to bring together hundreds of Indo-Pacific policymakers and experts to discuss issues including media disinformation, cybersecurity and the digital economy.

To meet the challenges of a digitally connected world, the US promotes an open, interoperable, secure and reliable internet, noted the report, urging all countries to take a risk-based approach to evaluate technology vendors, including those that might be subject to control by or the undue influence of foreign powers.

“We coordinate with such like-minded partners as Australia, Japan, the Republic of Korea, New Zealand, Singapore and Taiwan to support this objective,” said the report.