Last Saturday, U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton openly accused China of attacking U.S. networks and stealing sensitive information to gain military and economic advantages over the United States, Reuters reports.
Speaking at a campaign event in New Hampshire, Clinton used unusually strong words in condemning China’s alleged illicit behavior in cyberspace.
They’re also trying to hack into everything that doesn’t move in America. Stealing commercial secrets … from defense contractors, stealing huge amounts of government information, all looking for an advantage.
Cybersecurity could become a more important issue in the 2016 presidential race when it comes to discussing Sino-US relations, although it won’t play a big role in the campaign according to some experts.
“Cybersecurity is probably too ‘inside baseball’ of an issue for it to really drive much voting in a presidential election. It’s a topic that will invariably come up as part of larger foreign policy discussions, though,” Kyle Kondik, managing editor of the political newsletter Sabato’s Crystal Ball, told govinfosecurity.com in an interview.
In the words of U.S. Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, Beijing is a “leading suspect” in a recently discovered cyberattack on the networks of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) which compromised personal information of more than 4 million former and current federal employees.
The total cost of the attack – China, as usual, has denied any wrongdoing – could be as high as $ 19 million, the Christian Science Monitor reports. This Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representative Subcommittee on Research and Technology and Subcommittee on Oversight Hearing will hold a hearing with the revealing title “Is the OPM Data Breach the Tip of the Iceberg?” . One can expect the answer to be yes.
Hillary Clinton’s remarks are in line with an increasingly more assertive U.S. response to alleged Chinese transgressions in cyberspace. For example, in May of this year, the chief of U.S. Cyber Command reiterated that the United States will step up its active cyber defense postures in order to deter attacks on U.S. critical information infrastructure (see: “US: Hackers Will Pay a Price for Cyber Attacks”).
In April, the Pentagon has also released a new cyber strategy document to strengthen the United States’ “cyber defense and cyber deterrence posture.” The document specifically addresses Chinese cyber espionage activities and what escalatory steps the United States military would take to deter Chinese aggression in cyberspace.
However, my colleague at the East=West Institute notes about the Pentagon’s new cyber document:
As powerful and as well written as it is, allowing for diplomatic goals of alliance building and consultation with potential adversaries in Asia, it lacks nuance and the degree of sophistication that the United States and its allies in Asia badly need to deal with the developing strategic situation.
Hillary Clinton’s remarks show that we still lack the basic and common norms and language to talk about malicious and illicit activities in cyberspace. The larger questions that will need to be answered from a normative point of view are what constitutes war and peace in cyberspace, and whether there an elusive middle ground between the two.