The Complex

White House: We are talking cyber espionage with China

The U.S. government has and will continue to confront senior Chinese government officials "at the highest levels" about the massive amounts of cyber theft and espionage being committed against the United States by Chinese hackers, a senior White House official said today.

"We have repeatedly raised our concerns at the highest levels about cyber theft with senior Chinese officials, including in the military, and we will continue to do so," said the official in a statement emailed to Killer Apps Monday morning in reaction to cyber security firm Mandiant's new report detailing the exploits of a Chinese government cyber espionage unit.

"The United States has substantial and growing concerns about the threats to U.S. economic and national security posed by cyber intrusions, including the theft of commercial information," said the official, whose comments come a week after the White House introduced its cyber security executive order aimed at protecting critical infrastructure providers -- a relatively small group of banks, transport firms, energy companies, defense contractors and communications providers -- from crippling cyber attacks that would impact large numbers of Americans. The Pentagon is famously bolstering its offensive cyber capabilities in an effort to deter destructive cyber attacks against the United States.

The news of Mandiant's findings, first reported by the New York Times, also comes a week after Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), chairman of the House intelligence committee, called on the United States to confront China on its reportedly widespread cyber theft and espionage campaign against U.S. government and businesses. (Click here to read Killer Apps's recent interview with Mandiant's chief security officer on China's massive espionage campaign.)

"We need direct talks with China, and it needs to be at the top of a bilateral discussion about cyber espionage," Rogers told Killer Apps after a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies Wednesday. "This is a problem of epic proportions here and they need to be called on the carpet. There has been absolutely no consequences for what they have been able to steal and repurpose to date."

Rogers suggested that the United States begin implementing trade sanctions and "identifying individuals who participate in this, go after their visas, go after family travel -- all of the levers we have at the Department of State. The problem is that bad.

White House officials have repeatedly declined to discuss the specific steps they are considering taking to counter Chinese cyber aggression.

The United States is reportedly preparing a National Intelligence Estimate detailing Chinese cyber attacks against U.S. interests.Last year, Rogers's committee urged U.S. companies not to deal with Chinese telecommunications firms Huawei and ZTE, accusing the two of spying on U.S. businesses for the Chinese government. Also last year, U.S. Army Gen. Keith Alexander, head of U.S. Cyber Command and the National Security Agency called cyber crime "the greatest transfer of wealth in history."

The White House official went on to call for the United States and China to "continue a sustained, meaningful dialogue and work together to develop an understanding of acceptable behavior in cyberspace."

The effort to establish international rules of the road, or norms of behavior, in cyberspace based on the law of armed conflict is a tricky process that may take decades to flesh out, U.S. officials have repeatedly said. 

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