Until May 19th, the Obama administration had been careful about not mentioning China’s direct involvement in cyber-attacks on US targets. But that changed when US authorities charged five members of the Chinese Liberation Army with hacking into the networks of Westinghouse Electric and other US companies. Chinese hackers are believed to be behind many other breaches in the past including Target and The New York Times but the official stance had so-far been worded carefully so as not to point a direct finger at the Chinese government.
The event of May 19th are the first instance of a direct confrontation between the two sides on this explosive issue. Will the friction over Cyber Security lead to more distrust? Or is there a way to transform this heightened scrutiny into tangible steps towards a safer global internet?
China’s vehement reaction to this event suggests we are headed to ‘no-cooperation’ zone. In retaliation, China canceled joint Cyber Security working group sessions and stepped up the rhetoric. Popular belief in China is that it is a victim of the United States’ surveillance plan that has “gotten out of control” under the cover of the War against Terror. In a report published by South China Morning Post, claims were made that US authorities hacked into China Telecom, a state-owned telecommunication company, as well as Tsinghua University, China’s most prestigious university.
China is also playing up Snowden’s revelations to back its claims and accusation. China’s Internet Media Research Center published a report on May 26th, 2014 alleging that the US takes advantage of its political, economic, military and technology to spy without bounds. The China Internet Development Report 2014 jointly issued by the Internet Society of China and the China Internet Network Information Center claims that overseas hackers penetrated roughly 61,000 websites on the Chinese mainland in 2013 and most of these attacks originated from within the US.
Although heads of state from both sides have expressed interest in cooperating to better govern the Internet through the UN as recently as June of last year, recent developments have severely hampered any chances of cooperation.
What does that mean for businesses with e-assets and privileged information?
Unfortunately, nothing very good.
The one, certain conclusion we can draw is that there will be no break in cybercrime activities internationally for the foreseeable future. The distrust on both sides will likely lead to an unsafe cyber world for corporations and institutes with increasingly digital, and increasingly more expensive R&D and other proprietary assets. The irony, of course, is that international laws (including NATO’s Tallinn Manual) fail to address spying on private companies. For now, companies will have to invest in better technology, better security policies and constant vigilance to guard against this looming – and ever expanding – threat.
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