U.S. may sanction China over cyber attacks

The U.S. government is developing economic sanctions aimed at Chinese companies and individuals who have been involved in cyber attacks against the United States. The plan of action is ready to be set in motion if the Obama administration decides to go through with it.

Issuing sanctions would represent a significant expansion in the administration’s public response to the rising wave of ­cyber-economic espionage initiated by Chinese hackers, who officials say have stolen everything from nuclear power plant designs to search engine source code to confidential negotiating positions of energy companies, reports the Washington Post.

The exact details of proposed economic sanctions have not been leaked, but the initiative would come in the form of an executive order signed by President Obama. China is believed to be behind multiple attacks on American companies, as well as a huge hack on the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

The sanctions, if imposed, would go after Chinese entities that steal American business secrets, a practice U.S. companies have long complained of. But they would also come on the heels of a massive hack of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management that compromised more than 21 million sensitive government employee records and background checks. The United States has accused China of being behind the hack, via CNN.

It is always possible that the U.S. government never intends to actually implement the sanctions, but rather is using the tactic as a warning shot of sorts. The actual effect the sanctions would have is up for debate. Gizmodo published an editorial outlining the problems with the plan:

Sanctioning Chinese actors for the rash of cybercrime could certainly screw with some of its businesses and exact some toll, but expecting that the toll would propel the world’s second-largest economy into an existential crisis is expecting far too much.

Hell, expecting that sanctions will get Chinese cybercriminals to change their behavior in any other way besides encouraging them to become sneakier is naive. It would likely be viewed less as a deterrent than a galvanizing challenge, via Gizmodo.

Still, some see the sanctions as the administration’s answer to the infuriating attacks on U.S. business secrets and personal identity details. The administration is growing frustrated, and seems ready to take more drastic action if deemed necessary.

The Obama administration has struggled in recent years to respond to the rising threat of cyberattacks against the federal government and American companies. Many of these attacks have been linked to Chinese hackers, U.S. officials and security experts allege, and the administration for months has debated how to react.

Sanctions would represent a notable escalation of the government response. The alleged Chinese actions present a particular diplomatic challenge because they can be widely damaging but are flatly denied by Beijing, and because it can be difficult to pinpoint which companies have benefited from particular hacking incidents, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Well, at least when Chinese President Xi Jinping visits in October President Obama will have a ready conversation starter.


[Washington Post] [CNN] [Gizmodo] [Wall Street Journal] [Photo courtesy Andy Wong/Associated Press]