Cyber attacks rain on Taiwan during Pelosi visit

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi giving a speech in Taiwan
(Image credit: Getty Images)

A number of Taiwanese government websites were hit by cyber attacks, appearing to originate from China and Russia, during US House speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the island.

The websites of the foreign ministry, main government English portal, and the presidential office were hit by an attack on Tuesday night, the government revealed yesterday, as reported by the AP.

Additionally, Taiwan’s defence ministry also said its website was offline for around an hour at midnight on Wednesday due to a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack.

The island’s foreign ministry said that the attacks on its website as well as the government’s English portal were linked to Chinese and Russian IP addresses which tried to access the domains up to 8.5 million times per minute.

“As cyber attacks from foreign hostile forces could still occur at any time, the foreign ministry will continue to remain vigilant,” spokesperson Joanne Ou said.

The presidential office added that it’s set to increase its monitoring in the face of hybrid information warfare by external forces.

Taiwan and China have been at conflict over the island’s sovereignty, as the Chinese government sees it as a breakaway province that will one day be part of the country. Taiwan, on the other hand, considers the self-ruled island to be a separate nation, even if independence has never officially been declared.

Taiwan has also accused China of increasing cyber attacks on the island since the 2016 election of president Tsai Ing-wen, who considers Taiwan to be a sovereign nation. Officials have said in the past that government agencies face around five million cyber attacks and probes a day.

In addition to this, Taiwan said in 2020 that Chinese hackers had infiltrated at least 10 government agencies and gained access to around 6,000 email accounts in a bid to steal data.

In response to Pelosi’s visit, China also kicked off its largest ever military drills around the island.

The island is also important to the US since it houses the semiconductor chip giant Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC). Pelosi’s delegation reportedly met with TSMC chairman Mark Liu yesterday to discuss the passage of the CHIPS act in the US, according to the Taipei Times.

It wasn’t clear what was talked about during the discussion, apart from “the chip issue and the meaning behind the passage of the CHIPS act,” and TSMC even said there were no private meetings between Pelosi and the company.

The CHIPS act is important for chipmakers as they can receive US government subsidies and tax incentives for building new chip capacity in the country. However, chip manufacturing costs are much higher in the US than in Taiwan, although TSMC has said in the past that the subsidies would help narrow the manufacturing cost gap.

Additionally, the act underlines that companies that receive the subsidies cannot use it to boost production of advanced chips in China.

However, this could be problematic for China as it’s dependent on Taiwan for semiconductor manufacturing, as while Chinese companies can design these components, they only have a limited capacity to manufacture them, according to Al Jazeera. For now, China has pledged to invest $1.4 trillion between 2020 and 2025 in high-tech industries including semiconductors to try and become more self-reliant in this area.

Meanwhile, TSMC is building a $12 billion fab in Arizona, hoping to produce 5-nanometre chips from 2024. Production costs at the factory are 50% higher than at its factories in Taiwan.

Zach Marzouk

Zach Marzouk is a former ITPro, CloudPro, and ChannelPro staff writer, covering topics like security, privacy, worker rights, and startups, primarily in the Asia Pacific and the US regions. Zach joined ITPro in 2017 where he was introduced to the world of B2B technology as a junior staff writer, before he returned to Argentina in 2018, working in communications and as a copywriter. In 2021, he made his way back to ITPro as a staff writer during the pandemic, before joining the world of freelance in 2022.