The Future of Security
A Blow Against Cyberwar with China?

The United States and China are hard at work negotiating the early stages of a cyber warfare accord that could see both countries adopt a “no first strike” policy of attacking each others’ vital infrastructure, according to the New York Times:

While such an agreement could address attacks on power stations, banking systems, cellphone networks and hospitals, it would not, at least in its first version, protect against most of the attacks that China has been accused of conducting in the United States, including the widespread poaching of intellectual property and the theft of millions of government employees’ personal data.

The negotiations have been conducted with urgency in recent weeks, with a goal to announce an agreement when President Xi Jinping of China arrives in Washington for a state visit on Thursday. President Obama hinted at the negotiations on Wednesday, when he told the Business Roundtable that the rising number of cyberattacks would “probably be one of the biggest topics” of the summit meeting, and that his goal was to see “if we and the Chinese are able to coalesce around a process for negotiations” that would ultimately “bring a lot of other countries along.”

The putative deal may not be fully ready for an unveil during President Xi Jinping’s visit to Washington this week. It seeks to have both countries publicly embrace the cyber code of conduct developed by a working group at the United Nations and published last month, and it would be only aimed at preventing a first strike of a certain kind. Many security analysts fear cyber warfare could create serious electrical outages and take down cell towers, leading to significant economic damage, and that’s the danger this accord seeks to forestall. But so far, hackers have focused on American businesses’ intellectual property and government databases. If the Times‘ description is accurate, this deal would do little to stop those attacks.

Last week, we noted that President Obama has repeatedly talked tough about cybersecurity, threatening sanctions against Chinese businesses that he promised would “get their attention.” If he inks this accord, we hope President Obama remembers that a “no first strike” agreement is just the beginning of a complete cybersecurity strategy.

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