(Reuters) – When U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made a brief visit to Taiwan this week that infuriated Beijing, the welcome she received from government officials and the public stood in stark contrast to a different kind of message beginning to emerge elsewhere on the island .
On Wednesday, at some branches of 7-11 convenience stores in Taiwan, television screens behind cashiers suddenly switched to displaying the words: “Warrior Pelosi, get out of Taiwan!”
The largest 24-hour convenience store chain on the island fell victim to what Taiwanese authorities call an unprecedented number of cyberattacks on government websites belonging to the president’s office, the foreign and defense departments and infrastructure screens at train stations, in protest of Pelosi̵7;s visit.
Taipei has not directly blamed the attacks on the Chinese government, but has said the attacks on government websites – which crippled the websites’ operations – originated from addresses in China and Russia. It also said the companies whose screens were altered had used Chinese software that could have contained backdoors or Trojan horse malware.
Taiwan’s Digital Minister Audrey Tang said the volume of cyber attacks against Taiwan’s government entities on Tuesday, before and during Pelosi’s arrival, exceeded 15,000 gigabits, 23 times higher than the previous daily record.
Lo Ping-cheng, Taiwan’s government spokesman, said on Wednesday that the government had increased security at key infrastructure including power plants and airports and increased the level of cyber security vigilance across government offices. On Thursday, he said no related injuries have been discovered so far.
“Government departments have been very cautious. In recent days, in terms of public security, we have set up a three-tier government security and communication mechanism, it is already tough and defensive enough so these adjustments have been beneficial,” he told a briefing .
Theater, rather than threats
Pelosi’s visit sparked furious responses from the Chinese public and Beijing, which said the trip to the self-governing island it considers its territory violated its sovereignty. On Thursday, China fired missiles around Taiwan as part of an unprecedented series of military exercises.
A cybersecurity research organization said the attacks on Taiwanese government websites before Pelosi’s visit were likely launched by Chinese activist hackers rather than the Chinese government.
Hacker group APT 27, which has been accused by Western authorities of being a Chinese state-sponsored group, claimed responsibility for the cyberattacks on Taiwan on Wednesday, saying on YouTube that they were done to protest how Pelosi had defied China’s warnings about her visit. It also claimed it had shut down 60,000 internet-connected devices in Taiwan.
Asked about the cyberattacks in Taiwan on Thursday at a regular Chinese Foreign Ministry briefing, a spokesman declined to comment. The Cyberspace Administration of China, which regulates the country’s internet, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Experts said the cyberattacks, combined with China’s live fire drills, are giving Taiwan’s leaders a preview of what an invasion from China would look like.
In recent years, several reports from Taiwanese and US think tanks have emphasized the high likelihood that, in the event of a military attack on Taiwan, China would first launch a debilitating cybersecurity attack against Taiwan’s key infrastructure, such as its power grid. .
Still, Eryk Waligora, a cyber threat intelligence specialist at Accenture, said the latest appeared to be “more theater than threat” so far. He said previous attacks, such as a campaign between November last year and February that forced several financial institutions in Taiwan to suspend online transactions, were more sophisticated technically and malicious.
“There have certainly been far worse cyber attacks,” he said.