US And China Pledge ‘Code Of Cyber Conduct’

US officials have told China’s top brass directly of their ongoing concerns about the cyber behaviour of the Asian nation.

During three days of talks between the two nations, President Obama raised the US concern over China’s cyber activities, as well as its aggressive behaviour in the South China Sea.

Bad Blood

American concern at Chinese cyberattacks led to what US Secretary of State John Kerry described as “very frank discussions” between the two countries. Attempts by both countries to tackle the scourge of cyber crime together stalled last year.

“The President raised ongoing US concerns about China’s cyber and maritime behaviour, and he urged China to take concrete steps to lower tensions,” said the White House in a statement.

America has frequently accused China of cyber attacks.

Mostly recently, China was fingered as being behind a second hack of the federal agency that handles security clearances and staff records. The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) hack was officially blamed on a “foreign entity or government”, with official sources indicating China was being investigated.

The Chinese government for its part has consistently denied it is responsible for hacking, and it has denied it had anything to do with the OPM hack.

But these protestations cut little ice with American officials. Chinese protestations of innocence were not helped when in 2011 television footage showed Chinese military systems hacking a US target. It came during a military documentary program which showed a computer screen running software belonging to the People’s Liberation Army Information Engineering University (a Chinese military institution) that was hacking an American target.

American frustration at Chinese cyber attacks boiled over in May 2014. The US filed criminal indictments against five members of Unit 61398 of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA). And this year President Barack Obama created a new sanctions scheme against foreign hackers.

Code Of Conduct

Amid this ongoing bad blood, talks between the two nations were undoubtedly difficult. But the two sides have agreed to work together to come up with a code of cyber conduct.

“There was an honest discussion, without accusations, without any finger-pointing, about the problem of cyber theft and whether or not it was sanctioned by government or whether it was hackers and individuals that the government has the ability to prosecute,” John Kerry was quoted by the BBC as saying.

The US made it “crystal clear” that this was not acceptable, Kerry added.

“We need to work through how all countries are going to behave, but particularly how we’re going to work this out in terms of the bilateral relationship,” said Kerry.

The Chinese responded that the US must “respect the facts”, and said that the country was cracking down on hacking and was ready to co-operate with the US on cybersecurity issues.

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Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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