CBS: US considering retaliation for China hacking

Is the US about to get tough with China? The Wall Street Journal reports that the Obama administration has “carefully choreographed” a get-tough plan against China for its hacking activities in both the commercial and military spheres. CBS also reports on US irritation over China’s cyberwarfare activities:

The WSJ says the White House is considering a “raft of options” for response:

The Obama administration is considering a raft of options to more aggressively confront China over cyberspying, officials say, a potentially rapid escalation of a conflict the White House has only recently acknowledged.

Options include trade sanctions, diplomatic pressure, indictments of Chinese nationals in U.S. courts and cyber countermeasures—both attack and defense, officials said.

Officials said such a counterpunch, while likely not imminent, would be the natural culmination of a carefully choreographed escalation of warnings in recent weeks from President Barack Obama and top administration officials. The escalation was launched with a secret démarche, or formal diplomatic protest, to the Chinese government in January, officials said.

It’s not just the Chinese, either, that have gotten the attention of cyberwarriors in the Obama administration:

The decision to go on the attack offers further evidence that cyberwarfare has become a central element of diplomacy. Other examples include what U.S. officials say were Iranian-sponsored cyberattacks on U.S. banks and assaults on South Korean companies, blamed by Seoul on North Korea. Iran and North Korea have denied any role in the attacks.

Going on offense against Iran and North Korea are no-brainers. In the former case, we arguably have already done so with Stuxnet and other sabotage aimed at crippling Tehran’s ability to produce weapons-grade fissile material, or at least slowing their pursuit of it. However, that may be a problem when it comes to China, choreography aside. Beijing is still our dance partner when it comes to North Korea, which has moved short-range missiles into position for a new test.  We could perhaps use the embarrassment of exposure to push China into tightening the leash on Pyongyang, but a public trade war or diplomatic break will mean the end of any attempt to isolate the Kim regime, with the security issues that result from failure there.

It’s a delicate dance indeed.  The results depend on which nation sees the most value in continued trade and diplomatic development — but if those were concerns for Beijing, they probably wouldn’t have launched a years-long cyber war against the US in the first place.

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