Taiwan’s internet system is vulnerable to attacks from mainland China that could paralyse the self-ruled island, a government think tank has warned.
In the latest edition of its “Defence Situation Monthly” newsletter, the Institute for National Defence and Security Research said Taiwan’s connections to international communications cables and its .tw root domain address were at risk.
“The likelihood of the People’s Republic of China damaging or corrupting submarine cables and related infrastructure that connect Taiwan to the outside world should not be underestimated nor overlooked by the international community,” Tzeng Yi-suo, chief of the institute’s cyberwarfare and information security division, said.
Tzeng said the People’s Liberation Army could sever Taiwan’s links to the outside world by damaging the cables where they connect to the island through a series of stations.
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The cables come ashore at four points – near Toucheng in the northeast, Tamsui and Bali in the north as well as Fangshan in the south – and are less than 300 metres below the surface in those areas.
The mainland could also pressure the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, which allocates internet addresses, to change the root domain of Taiwan from .tw to a subdomain or variant of .cn, he said.
“As with China’s poaching of Taiwan’s diplomatic allies, Beijing could always use this approach to change Taiwan’s root domain name,” he said.
Tzeng said this would not only undermine Taiwan’s involvement in the international cyber community, but could give Beijing the power to order ICANN to change the unique autonomous system numbers that identify each network on the internet, opening the door to disinformation and viral attacks.
The warning from the newly formed institute comes after the administration of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen expanded a ban on all mainland-made telecommunications equipment from government and military systems to include government-funded research institutions.
It also follows Tsai’s sharp rebuke earlier this month to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s call for talks on unifying the island and the mainland.
Beijing, which considers Taiwan a breakaway province subject to eventual unification by force if necessary, has suspended official exchanges with Taiwan since Tsai was became in 2016 and refused to accept the one-China principle.
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Beijing has also stepped up pressure against Tsai by staging a number of war games around Taiwan and poaching five of the island’s allies.
In the past year, by claiming that the island is a part of China, Beijing has forced international airlines, universities and other multinational companies or organisations to change Taiwan’s title in their websites to “Taiwan, China” or “Taiwan province of China”.
“The long arm of Beijing has already reached into the virtual world to force universities, airlines and other multinational companies and organisations to change their proprietary website information that identifies Taiwan as a separate country; it means targeting domain-naming in cyberspace is not outside of the CCP’s likely hybrid warfare scenarios,” Tzeng said.