US China Cyber Initiative Withers After Hacking Charges

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Joint cyber crime initiative stalls after the US levels hacking charges at Chinese army personnel

Attempts by the United States and China to tackle the scourge of cyber crime together have apparently stalled, after the US filed hacking charges against Chinese army personnel.

The move has soured relations between the two countries and effectively ended any co-operation over tackling cyber crime together.

Unit 61398

In late May, the US filed indictments against members of Unit 61398 of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

Five Chinese nationals – Wang Dong, Sun Kailiang, Wen Xinyu, Huang Zhenyu, and Gu Chunhui – were charged for alleged cyber espionage on a number of US organisations.

China subsequently denied the charges, argued that Americans were carrying out massive cyber espionage campaigns against Chinese firms, and asked the US to rescind its claims.

China (c) Alexander Mak, Shutterstock 2014The US charges effectively ended the fledging co-operation between the United States and China on fighting cyber crime, according to a senior US security official quoted by Reuters. They were reportedly working together to tackle online money laundering, child pornography and drug trafficking.

“We are in time out,” the official told Reuters. “They don’t want to talk to us. Everything is really cold.”

The US official also said that there had been no slowdown on attacks on US networks. “They have been very active and this hasn’t changed a bit,” he reportedly said.

The criminal charges against Chinese nationals reportedly mark the first time that the United States had targeted specific foreign officials. And it could lead to Chinese nationals being excluded from US security conferences following the recent indictments.

Strained Relationship

The issue has added to the difficulties of Western companies doing business in China, and has led to Chinese businesses and banks replacing Western computers or software in favour of local offerings.

China also said recently that it would vet Western technology companies operating in the country. Meanwhile the China Central Government Procurement Centre has already excluded Windows 8 from a government purchase of energy-efficient computers, in order to “ensure computer security”.

But the souring of relations is hurting both sides. In a 2012 report, the Intelligence Committee of the US House of Representatives alleged that Chinese manufacturers Huawei and ZTE could not be “trusted to be free of foreign state influence”, and “thus pose a security threat to the United States and to our systems”.

The report called for their products to be banned, and in fact Huawei withdrew from the US market in 2013, partly as a result of such pressures.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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