U.S. Officials Say Chinese Cyberespionage ‘Needs to Stop’

The top cybersecurity officials in the United States on Wednesday said that China is harming the potential for an open Internet through its policies of censorship, and also said the country’s continued cyberespionage operations are damaging the two countries’ relationship.

In a piece co-authored in Politico with Ambassador Robert Holleyman and Alex Niejelow, the chief of staff to the U.S. intellectual property enforcement coordinator within the Executive Office of the President, J. Michael Daniel, the cybersecurity coordinator for the National Security Council, said that China’s “continuing and indisputable” cyberespionage campaigns against U.S. companies is undermining the relationship between the U.S. and China. Daniel also said that the operations are hurting Chinese technology firms and the foundation of international commerce.

“Finally, we believe that nation-states have responsibilities in cyberspace, just as they do elsewhere, to abide by certain standards of behavior. That is why the United States remains deeply concerned about China’s continuing and indisputable government-sponsored cyber theft from companies and commercial sectors around the world for Chinese companies’ advantage. The United States does not engage in these types of activities,” the piece in Politico said.

“This behavior is adversely affecting the fundamentals of the U.S.-China relationship, harming the ties of our business community, tarnishing Chinese firms’ international image, and at a broader level, undermining the basic foundations of free and fair commerce. That is why China’s government-sponsored cyber theft for commercial gain is not just a U.S.-China issue. It is an issue of concern to countries around the world. It needs to stop.”

These are the strongest public statements to date from U.S. officials about the long-running campaigns by Chinese government-sponsored groups to steal intellectual property from U.S. firms. Security researchers, executives and others have been warning about the depth and breadth of cyberespionage emanating from China for many years now and U.S. officials have remained mostly quiet about it until recently. Obama administration officials have made some statements about the problem in the last few months, but none has been as direct or pointed as the ones from Daniel.

The strong denial from Daniel about the U.S. conducting these kinds of operations also doesn’t leave much room for backtracking. Foreign officials have said that U.S. intelligence agencies conduct cyberespionage on behalf of American firms, something that U.S. officials have consistently denied. Former NSA director Michael Hayden has said that his former agency was the best in the world at stealing secrets, but none of it was done to aid American corporate interests.

“I know a fair bit about stealing stuff in the cyber domain. We’re really good at it, and we do it to keep you safe,” Hayden said during a speech last year.

In addition to calling out the Chinese government on cyberespionage, Daniel also said that the new policies in the country regarding censorship and forced backdoors in Chinese technology are harming innovation.

“China’s new rules require technology companies doing business with banks to demonstrate that their products are ‘secure and controllable’ by, among other things, making their source code available to the Chinese government, providing the Chinese government with back doors in software and hardware and requiring localization of foreign intellectual property to China. Not only are these regulations inconsistent with international cybersecurity best practices, they are anticompetitive trade barriers,” the article says.

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