The Obama administration plans to fight back with fines and other non-cyber means.
The White House will reportedly issue a new report that lists "aggressive" steps the United States will take in response to the Chinese government "cyberstealing" information from Washington, numerous businesses and organizations around the globe. The initial steps will include fines and other trade actions, not a (public) cyber-based retaliation.
The report arrives after security specialists Mandiant said that China’s 2nd Bureau of the People’s Liberation Army General Staff Department’s 3rd Department (Unit 61398) has been stealing hundreds of terabytes of data from at least 141 organizations, 115 of which reside within the United States. Twenty different industrial sectors have been targeted, spanning from energy and aerospace to transportation and financial institutions.
According to the report, this theft has been taking place since 2006. Mandiant claims to have tracked the hacking down to a 12-story office building in Shanghai, and claim that these Chinese hackers break into a network and then periodically revisits over several months or years to steal broad categories of intellectual property. This info includes technology blueprints, proprietary manufacturing processes, emails, contact lists and more.
Mandiant said it made the report public to help send a message to both the Chinese and North American governments, to open a dialogue between the two countries about a serious problem. The report made public a load of information that officials have kept to themselves for a number of years.
Military experts claim that because Unit 61398 is part of the People's Liberation Army's cyber-command which answers to the General Staff Department, its activities are likely authorized at the highest levels of China's military. Think of the General Staff Department as a Chinese version of Obama's Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The answer to the hacking problem, according to former FBI executive assistant director Shawn Henry who now heads security firm CrowdStrike, is to deter the hackers and the nations that back them, not tell corporations to beef up their security. Now the pressure is on the government to take firmer actions against them given that the secret is out thanks to Mandiant's report.
"If the Chinese government flew planes into our airspace, our planes would escort them away. If it happened two, three or four times, the president would be on the phone and there would be threats of retaliation," Henry told the Associated Press. "This is happening thousands of times a day. There needs to be some definition of where the red line is and what the repercussions would be."
Naturally the Chinese government has dismissed the Mandiant report and claims made by other entities. Even more, the Foreign Ministry claims that it has been hacked too, some of which was traced back to the United States. A 2012 report provided the Ministry of Information Technology and Industry even claims that in 2012 alone, 1,400 computers and 38,000 websites based in China have suffered foreign attacks – most of which were conducted by the United States.
Spying on other countries is nothing new for many intelligence agencies, as they keep tabs on what's going on overseas to better fortify the nation's defenses. However cybersecurity experts believe that the U.S. government does not conduct similar hacks, and it doesn't steal from the Chinese.
Over the past few weeks, reports have surfaced that the Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times were infiltrated by Chinese hackers. Twitter, Facebook and Apple have also reported hacking attempts, but did not publicly accused China. There are reportedly numerous other that have been hacked but have not publicly come forth.