News From the Front-Lines of Cyberspace

A recent report from Brookings characterized the U.S-China relationship as one based on “strategic distrust.” Some of the many obstacles to trust between the declining superpower and its major challenger can be found in the wide realm of cyber-related policy issues. From criticism of the infamous Great Firewall, to compromised intellectual property and state secrets by cyber spies, to the endeavors of patriotic and ideological hackers, cyberspace is a constant source of contention and political rhetoric. Over the past two years, cybersecurity has been the focus of many foreign policy think tank white papers from inside China and abroad. Earlier this month, The Guardian carried news of ongoing “cyber war games” between the U.S. and China:

The US and China have been discreetly engaging in “war games” amid rising anger in Washington over the scale and audacity of Beijing-co-ordinated cyber attacks on western governments and big business, the Guardian has learned.

State department and Pentagon officials, along with their Chinese counterparts, were involved in two war games last year that were designed to help prevent a sudden military escalation between the sides if either felt they were being targeted. Another session is planned for May.

[…]During the first exercise, both sides had to describe what they would do if they were attacked by a sophisticated computer virus, such as Stuxnet, which disabled centrifuges in Iran’s nuclear programme. In the second, they had to describe their reaction if the attack was known to have been launched from the other side.

A report in China Daily responded to The Guardian’s coverage, denying military participation and stressing the informality of the games.

Michigan Republican Representative Mike Rogers, author of the controversial CISPA bill that passed in the House of Representatives yesterday (and has, like SOPA/PIPA before it, been compared to China’s Great Firewall), fashioned his rhetoric for garnering the bill support around China. From a post he co-authored on Politico:

Every morning in China, thousands of highly trained computer spies now wake up with one mission: Steal U.S. intellectual property that the Chinese can use to further their economic growth. American companies are hemorrhaging research and development on products ranging from fighter engines, to pesticides, to cutting-edge information technology.

The scope of this effort is massive and the rampant theft is breathtaking. What is now happening to U.S. businesses may be the largest transfer of wealth in world history.

In the past few years, China has stolen from U.S. companies the amount of intellectual property equal to 50 times the current print collection of the Library of Congress. This activity can no longer just be a cost of doing business in China. China is literally trying to steal our prosperity and our way of life. Other nation-states like Russia and Iran also are getting in on the act, rapidly becoming insatiable cyber predators.

An article from Sky News outlines a recent meeting between the US and Australia, in which the mandate for the ANZUS security treaty is extended to cyberspace, likely with the intent to send China a message:

Under these new arrangements, Australia and the US will consult and determine appropriate options to address the threat of any cyber-attack that threatened the territorial integrity, political independence or security of either nation.

[..]’In the ANZUS case, the intended recipient of any intended message is presumably China, and the message is that cyberattacks, while perhaps falling short of the seriousness of armed attack, are unacceptable and may attract a serious response,’ [Andrew Davies, Australian policy analyst] said.

China is considered to have a significant capability to mount cyber attacks and is regularly blamed for cyber espionage aimed at Western military computer systems.

Dr Davies said a cyber attack would probably need to cause death or destruction to be used as justification for a military response.

In other news from the cyber-battlefield, Anonymous China, who launched a series of attacks on Chinese websites earlier this month, tweeted of a new strike today:

Minutes after their announcement, the English language government website was back up and running.