China’s Digital Sprawl: Is Global Power Shifting From the US to China?

Listen to True Spies Podcast The Digital Silk Road

Charity Wright has been collecting Chinese intelligence since 2007 - routinely monitoring how the country is developing and conducting cyber espionage - but when the former NSA and US Army analyst published her 2021 report outlining China's digital influence, readers were stunned.

The data shows that not only is the balance of global power possibly shifting to Beijing but that Chinese espionage may shape the future of the world.

Charity Wright

“If China's implementing this technology in this way, our concern is: are they teaching these other regimes around the world how to implement this technology in the same way against minorities, against religious groups, against pro-democracy movements?” Wright told the SPYSCAPE True Spies podcast. 

In many parts of the world, cyber spying is sponsored and sanctioned by national governments - every day, all over the globe. And the danger is only growing.

China's digital footprint is sprawling worldwide
In many parts of the world, cyber spying is sponsored and sanctioned by national governments


China’s Digital Sprawl: Is Global Power Shifting From the US to China?

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Listen to True Spies Podcast The Digital Silk Road

Charity Wright has been collecting Chinese intelligence since 2007 - routinely monitoring how the country is developing and conducting cyber espionage - but when the former NSA and US Army analyst published her 2021 report outlining China's digital influence, readers were stunned.

The data shows that not only is the balance of global power possibly shifting to Beijing but that Chinese espionage may shape the future of the world.

Charity Wright

“If China's implementing this technology in this way, our concern is: are they teaching these other regimes around the world how to implement this technology in the same way against minorities, against religious groups, against pro-democracy movements?” Wright told the SPYSCAPE True Spies podcast. 

In many parts of the world, cyber spying is sponsored and sanctioned by national governments - every day, all over the globe. And the danger is only growing.

China's digital footprint is sprawling worldwide
In many parts of the world, cyber spying is sponsored and sanctioned by national governments


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Threat intelligence is already a big business

Charity began working as a Mandarin-speaking translator and then cyber threat intelligence analyst - first for the US military and NSA and later in the private sector. Her job is to zoom out and look at the big picture, the end goal.

Some of the US’s adversaries have the long game in mind. China, for example, has objectives that are 30 years away. Threat intelligence is big business right now, however. A lot of bad actors want to get their hands on government and company data.

In 2021, Charity published a report on China’s sprawling digital influence as part of its ambitious global infrastructure plan. Her findings were stunning - even to her. 

Threat intelligence is a growing business
Charity Wright goes undercover online as a digital spy


Charity Wright: ‘Parts of this research were really scary’

“There's some parts of this research that were really scary because we're zooming out and we're looking at strategic intelligence, which is: what's happening right now? Where are things heading? And is this the direction we want the world to be going?”

Her sources included open-source intelligence - what you can find publicly - and she also on the dark Web analyzing threats. While Charity is operating as a digital spy, she’s undercover using false personas so she’s not leaving breadcrumbs along the path as she snoops through data.

“So you're looking for IP addresses. You're looking for domains that have maybe some trace of malicious behavior in the past. You're looking for patterns and deciphering those patterns and discovering where they're coming from, who's conducting that activity, what their target is, and what their tactics are.”

China's military
Charity’s Mandarin skills included learning Chinese military terms and topics

Charity Wright’s training includes cyber sleuthing

Charity’s Mandarin skills included knowing Chinese military terms and topics, and that really gave her the insight she needed to spy into what China is doing behind the scenes that nobody else sees.

“Over the past few years, China has rapidly developed. And so we're monitoring very closely how that development is happening, how they're exporting digital technology around the world, and how that digital technology that's native to China gives their government a foothold for cyber espionage operations,” Charity told True Spies.

True Spies podcast: The Digital Silk Road
Listen to True Spies podcast: The Digital Silk Road


China's Digital Silk Road

What she found was that the Chinese government isn’t just advancing its agenda at home - it is exporting its influence all around the world along the so-called ‘Digital Silk Road’, a set of cyber projects that the Chinese government is pushing through their ‘Belt and Road Initiative’. 

To date, 140 countries have signed on to take part. China is exporting digital products and setting up digital infrastructure all over the world, especially in developing regions of the world like South Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Many of those countries - especially in developing parts of the world - are grateful for the injection of resources. A gift from the Chinese government tends to come with strings attached, however.

Sometime back in 2020, Charity started reading between the lines of what the CCP was actually investing in. What she found was shocking.

To find out more, listen to True Spies Podcast The Digital Silk Road and read the transcript on our podcast page. 

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