Cybersecurity News Round-Up: Obama to confront China on Cyber Espionage

Cybersecurity Obama with Chinese Foreign Minister

White House photo

China is back in the cyber spotlight again. This time charged with hacking into U.S. networks to steal information on the country’s most advanced weapons systems.

Breaking the story last week, The Washington Post reported that China had infiltrated networks to gain access to more than two dozen of the United States’ missile defenses and combat aircraft and ship design plans.

“China, which is pursuing a comprehensive long-term strategy to modernize its military, is investing in ways to overcome the U.S. military advantage — and cyber-espionage is seen as a key tool in that effort,” the Post reported. “For the first time, the Pentagon specifically named the Chinese government and military as the culprit behind intrusions into government and other computer systems.”

And while the news may not come as a surprise to many in the cyber world, President Obama is preparing to confront China on the issue.

“Cybersecurity is a key priority of this administration,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said during a press conference, according to Reuters. “It is a key concern that we have.”

“It is an issue that we raise at every level in our meetings with our Chinese counterparts, and I’m sure it will be a topic of discussion when the president meets with President Xi in California in early June.”

Following up on Carney’s comments, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.), who in May introduced legislation aimed at tackling cyber theft, sent a letter to Obama, urging urge him to use the legislation in his talks with China’s president.

“I see you are meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping June 7 and 8 in California and I wanted to bring this bill to your attention,” Sen. Levin wrote in his letter to the president. “I thought you could refer to this bill in your meeting with President Xi as an example that the U.S. will indeed impose real costs on China should they continue to steal our intellectual property.”

But according to Richard Bejtlich, chief security officer of cybersecurity firm Mandiant, which earlier this year warned of the Chinese cyber threat, Obama is likely to play “more of the good cop” when he meets with the Chinese president later this week.

On the issue, James Lewis, director of the Technology and Public Policy Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Politico, “China is a big country, and they’re not going to fall on their knees and beg for forgiveness.”

Michelle Kincaid is a DC-based public affairs professional specializing in technology policy. She is creator of the blog CybersecurityNews.org.