Vietnam is Quietly Building a 'Cyber-Army'
Amid the flurry of news over Christmas, one item might have slipped your attention. An announcement by Vietnam that it has recruited more than 10,000 people into a "cyber army."
In a Christmas day announcement, a senior member of the Vietnam People’s Army confirmed that it already possesses a well-developed cyber warfare capability, and that the focus was on developing this in coming years.
If you think the timing of the announcement seems suspicious, you are right. Christmas is, of course, less of a big deal in Communist, traditionally Buddhist Vietnam, but I can’t help but feel that the decision to release this information on Dec. 25 was carefully planned to make sure it got a minimum of press attention — both domestically and globally.
For many Americans, the news that Vietnam is developing a cyber warfare capability may come as an unpleasant surprise. Is this the latest attempt to spread communism across Southeast Asia? No.
Look carefully at the detail of the announcement, and it becomes abundantly clear why the country is developing these tools — to control its own people.
The Wrong Views
Internet connectivity in Vietnam has developed rapidly in recent years. Fully 63 percent of the country’s inhabitants are now online. For Nguyen Trong Nghi, the official who made the recent announcement — this represents a challenge.
This development, he said, "has two sides; on the negative side, the enemy takes advantage of the internet to create chaos." Accordingly, he went on, "The Central Military Commission is very interested in building up a standing force to counter the wrong viewpoints."
It’s not hard to ascertain what he means by "the wrong viewpoints": he means any dissent from the authoritarian government’s view. This is reminiscent of China, of course, who possess their own well-developed cyber force who are charged with cracking down on online dissent.
The free expression of anti-government views has certainly become a "problem" for the regime in recent years. Amid widespread reports of government interference and spying on companies and individuals within the country, both activists and ordinary citizens alike are seeking to enhance their online privacy.
Accordingly, usage of VPNs and other online privacy tools is rapidly increasing, as is usage of usage P2P mesh networks based on the blockchain. The recent sentencing of a 22-year old blogger, Nguyen Van Hoa, to seven years in prison for reporting on a chemical spill has only increased such concerns.
An Opportunity for the US
While the suppression of free speech is always distasteful to Americans, the new announcement does present opportunities for the U.S., both in terms of profits and diplomacy.
Cyber "armies," such as that being developed by Vietnam, do not appear from nowhere. Significant expertise is required to train and equip them, and in this area the US would do well to offer its services.
Recent years have seen an increased level of defense cooperation between the U.S. and Vietnam, thanks to gradually improving diplomatic relations between the two countries. Since Obama lifted the arms trade ban on Vietnam, there has been much talk of U.S. companies making large arms deal with the regime.
Look at the details of such deals, however, and it becomes apparent how limited they are. Vietnam is interested, it seems, in buying the occasional helicopter and a handful of fighter jets from the US, but the bulk of its military expenditure goes to Russia, who supply everything from fuel to the semi-automatic rifles used by the Vietnamese Army.
Vietnam’s decision to develop a cyber warfare capability therefore presents the U.S. with an opportunity to address this imbalance. Offering U.S.-made tools, and U.S.-led training, to Vietnam offers several advantages. Quite apart from boosting the profits of American firms, it will also ensure that we understand the capabilities of a potentially unstable regime.
And lastly, increased cooperation in this area might even give us increased diplomatic leverage, and help us to convince Vietnam to use its cyber army for national defense and security, rather than limiting the political rights of its own citizens.
Sam Bocetta is a defense contractor for the U.S. Navy, a defense analyst, and a freelance journalist. He specializes in finding radical — and often heretica l— solutions to "impossible" ballistics problems. Through Lakeview Capital, he also cultivates funding for projects — usually naval, defense, and UAV startups. He writes about naval engineering, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, marine ops, program management, defense contracting, export control, international commerce, patents, InfoSec, cryptography, cyberwarfare, and cyberdefense. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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