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U.S. ponders China’s commitment to anti-hacking deal


Will China really stop hacking American corporations to steal their secrets? That question has been raised repeatedly since the U.S. and China signed an agreement to curb economic cyber espionage.

The two countries struck the anti-hacking deal during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s state visit to Washington, D.C., in September 2015. The U.S. and China each promised not to carry out hacking attacks on commercial businesses.

However, a number of developments in November 2015 showed that doubts persist about China’s willingness to abide by the agreement and that American officials are pondering what to do about that.

  • A top U.S. counterintelligence official expressed skepticism that China is meeting its promises. “We haven’t seen any indication in the private sector that anything has changed,” National Counterintelligence Executive William Evanina told reporters, according to Bloomberg News.
  • A U.S. national security official said the U.S. could bring criminal charges or sanctions against China if hackers there continue their corporate espionage, according to The Associated Press.
  • An advisory body for the U.S. Congress offered lawmakers a bold new suggestion: Consider allowing American corporations to “hack back” if Chinese hackers steal their confidential information. “Data lost in such attacks could be recovered or wiped,” according to the BBC.

With the anti-hacking accord only recently reached, it remains to be seen how the deal will work out. There are conflicting signals. Despite all the doubts being raised, some signs of progress have emerged.

In late November 2015, U.S. trade officials announced that the two countries had reached “meaningful commitments on minimizing trade-secret theft and protecting intellectual property” after three days of talks in China, according to The Hill, a Washington, D.C.-based news publication.

Still, some cyber security experts in the United States question China’s intent.

“We believe it is important for Congress to assess whether U.S.-based companies that have been hacked should be allowed to engage in counterintrusions for the purpose of recovering, erasing or altering stolen data in offending computer networks,” said William Reinsch, chairman of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission. The U.S. congressional panel reports on the national security implications of the economic relationship between the two world powers.

The commission’s 2015 report asserts that Chinese cyber espionage has cost American companies tens of billions of dollars. The report adds that in many cases, hackers turned over trade secrets to companies owned by the Chinese government.

In a November 2015 email to The Associated Press, Chinese Embassy spokesman Zhu Haiquan insisted that China is also a victim of hacking attacks and is a “staunch advocate” for cyber security.

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