Cyber Technology and Security Correspondent – Max Kobrak
PLA Likely To Struggle In Recruitment Of Cyber Talent
The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is likely to struggle recruiting cyber talent. Most government/military cyber jobs in China lack prestige and a decent salary. The PLA faces intense competition from Chinese corporations which have advantages in recruitment. Students from the PLA’s own training centers and universities lack practical skills. Also, Chinese youths find ways to avoid getting drafted.
Information and cyber warfare became a core component of the Chinese defense strategy, since restructuring began in January 2016.[i] The establishment of the SFF consolidated and streamlined the PLA’s cyber operations. The CCP passed a five-year plan in March 2016, to increase development of cyber capabilities, security, and deterrence.[ii] The PLA needs to recruit more talented cyber operators to meet the requirements of the plan.[iii]
The PLA struggled to recruit talented hackers in the past; this is due to a number of factors. First, most government/military cyber jobs offer small salaries and little prestige. A poll revealed that 55% of white hat hackers (an ethical hacker or cyber security expert) in china makes less than USD 16,100, while 5% make more than USD 80,500 annually.[iv] Second, the PLA talent scouts unable to compete with Chinese corporations and are often left with “mediocre” recruits.[v] Third, recruits sent to the PLA Information Engineering University and other training centers often graduate ill equipped to perform their duties. According to cybersecurity experts, “the schools often churn out students who know theory, but lack practical skills.”[vi]
Military service in China is voluntary for students who engage in higher education, so the PLA cannot forcibly conscript cyber personnel from universities.[vii] Service-age youth actively avoid service by getting tattoos, piercings, or purposefully failing psychological or physical tests.[viii]
Analytic confidence for this assessment is high. The analyst used analysis of competing hypothesis. Source reliability is high, most sources corroborated each other. The analyst’s expertise is low and the analyst worked alone with slight discussion with teammates. Subject complexity is moderate and the time available for the task was sufficient.