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12 March 2013, 16:55

Cyber espionage: China and the US look for talks

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After a war of words with mutual accusations flying between the two parties, it seems that the frontlines of the cyber espionage battle between the US and China may be softening up. Last week, China signalled a willingness to talk to the international community, especially the US. The Chinese Foreign Ministry has been quoted, by various sources including the Washington Post, as saying "Cyberspace needs rules and cooperation, not wars. China is willing to have constructive dialogue and cooperation with the global community, including the United States".

According to the message, as reported by Chinese News Agency ChinaDaily, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi supports international rules under a United Nations framework and proposes concrete initiatives in that arena. Yang also protested at the criticism of his country; reports of hackers in China, backed by the government or military, were "built on shaky ground". Yang said the Chinese government was active in the fight against cyber-crime and had introduced laws to explicitly outlaw such activity.

But on Monday, Tom Donilon, National Security Advisor to the US President, called for an end to Chinese cyber espionage against US companies in a speech to The Asia Society. Many US companies were complaining of "an unprecedented scale" of cyber attacks emanating from China. Donilon had three demands of for the Chinese government. Firstly, for China to recognise the scope and risk of the problem, secondly, to take serious steps to investigate and stop the attackers, and finally, to engage in "constructive direct dialogue" with the U.S. to establish "acceptable norms of behavior in cyberspace".

The dispute between the US and China has been building for some time and was only heightened when security firm Mandiant presented evidence in late February that they had traced much of the hacking activity against the US back to an office building in Shanghai. The building was close to areas of the Chinese military and Mandiant also found similarities between a profiled hacker group and a unit of the Chinese military. This led the company to believe the hackers were working under government contract.

The Chinese government denied the allegations and countered with numbers of attacks on their own operations. According to them, the websites of the military in 2012 saw an average of 140,000 cyber attacks per month and of these, 62 per cent could be tracked back to US IP addresses.


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