HONG KONG/TAIPEI • Taiwan is bracing itself for an onslaught of cyber attacks from mainland China ahead of local elections in November intended to undermine a President who has defied Beijing's efforts to bring the democratically ruled island under its control.
China, along with Russia and North Korea, may be increasingly testing out cyber-hacking techniques in Taiwan before using them against the US and other foreign powers, Taipei said.
The tests involve malware tools mostly used to target government agencies, including Taiwan's foreign and economy ministries, said Mr Howard Jyan, director-general of its cyber-security department.
"Based on matching patterns, sophistication and other characteristics, it's likely the majority of the cyber attacks come from groups supported by China," Mr Jyan said.
"We believe the number of cyber attacks will rise before the elections. Hackers and organisations will try to intervene."
Since taking office in May 2016, President Tsai Ing-wen and her Democratic Progressive Party have refused to recognise China's claim to Taiwan. China considers the island part of its territory, to be unified by force if necessary.
China has responded with a multipronged effort to squeeze Ms Tsai's administration, chipping away at the number of its diplomatic partners, ramping up military exercises in the Taiwan Strait, and pressuring foreign airlines and hotels to refer to Taiwan as part of China.
China's campaign has also fuelled a growing struggle for global influence with the United States, which has informal ties with Taiwan despite moving its embassy to Beijing four decades ago.
"To some extent, Taiwan against China is David against Goliath," said Mr Ben Read, head of cyber-espionage analysis at US firm FireEye.
"The volume we see and the resources would be hard for anyone to keep up with."
Taiwan's government endured 360 successful cyber attacks last year, Mr Jyan said, possibly compromising sensitive and classified data.
But the number of attempts was far greater: Millions were carried out each month last year, he said.
Servers in civil, military and research departments have been targeted, including hospital systems hacked to steal personal health information and other private data.
Taiwan this month plans to open a government cyber-security training programme for companies and non-governmental organisations to send their IT personnel, with grants for up to 150 students yearly.
Last year, it created a military cyber command. And it has earmarked more than NT$1.6 billion (S$71 million) in next year's Budget to safeguard websites and databases most targeted by mainland cyber spies, the Taipei Times reported earlier this month.
The National Communications Commission on Tuesday said Taiwan media could be fined up to NT$2 million if found to disseminate unverified or fake content that hurts the public interest.
The move came after officials blamed fake news shared on social media for the recent suicide of Mr Su Chii-cherng, a senior Japan-based diplomat.
Posts identified as originating in China falsely claimed that Chinese consular officials were forced to rescue Taiwanese nationals stranded at Osaka's airport during Typhoon Jebi after Taiwan's representatives failed to act.