For a decade, the Chinese government's cyber-espionage activities have been an open secret in Washington.
The hacking and theft of intellectual property were widely known but not publicly discussed by either the companies being victimized or the federal government.
However, with the recent public release of a detailed report by cyber-security firm Mandiant, which draws a clear line between the Chinese military and extensive hacking activity, the behind-the-scenes drama has taken center stage.
We hope the public discussion, and the president's strategy to mitigate trade-secret theft, are just the beginning of a broad and multilateral effort to pressure the Chinese, as well as other nations that have been snooping around in corporate systems.
It is unfair for U.S. companies to spend the money and intellectual capital in developing ideas, business plans and sales strategies only to have that information stolen and used by competitors.
In this case, the suspicion is the secrets the Chinese military steals are funneled to state-sponsored companies that compete with U.S. companies in the global marketplace.
Of course, the Chinese government denies having engaged in such activities, but the Mandiant report is well-documented. There would have to be a stunning number of coincidences in play for the Chinese to have been accused in error.
The Obama administration responded to the report with a strategy white paper outlining approaches to the problem. It includes putting offending countries on "watch lists" and urging other countries to join in pressuring bad actors to stop their hacking activities. It also, as one critic quoted in The Washington Post noted, refers to strategies already in play. It includes the word "continue" more than 20 times.
The question, then, is what more can be done to combat such activity. We hope the administration is privately pressuring China to cease and desist. But there are other ways, including denial of visas to officials from companies that benefit from the theft, or students and researchers from universities connected to hacking activities. There also is room for more aggressive prosecution of cyber-espionage cases against perpetrators, regardless of who they may be.
It's a delicate matter, since there are many issues upon which the U.S. and China need to cooperate to serve mutual interests (North Korea comes to mind). But this country must defend its economic interests and find a way to stop aggressive Chinese hackers bent on appropriating some of America's greatest assets the creativity and innovation of its people
The Denver Post, Feb. 22