What to do about cyber attacks from state actors and their surrogates? For the State Department and DHS it would seem that the answer is now the courts and international negotiation. Hints of this came recently with the indictment of 5 Chinese military personnel for hacking. An utterly futile gesture as the Chinese are not about to extradite the 5 to stand trial, it bespeaks reliance on legal remedies that are, at best, only a matter of public shaming. Now, however, there is new evidence regarding the U.S. intent to negotiate on cyber with state actors like China, Russia, and Iran.
Along with recent Chinese hacking into the Office of Personnel Management comes a reports that Chinese hackers, almost certainly at the behest of their government, have begun targeting Middle East experts at major U.S. think tanks. This, in response to events in Iraq and, seemingly, an urgent Chinese need to know where U.S. policy regarding them might be going. Operation “Deep Panda,” as it is named by researchers, was announced by Dmitri Alperovitch, chief technology officer of cyber security company CrowdStrike. Alperovitch suggested that perhaps the Chinese were concerned about their oil infrastructure in Iraq. Whether the U.S. will intervene and protect Chinese interests may be the question of the hour for Beijing.
The above came on the eve of last week’s annual Strategic and Economic Dialog between Washington and Beijing. One of Secretary of State John Kerry’s goals is to secure the revival of the Sino-U.S. working group on cyber issues. The group was shut down by the Chinese after the military hackers’ indictments. The intent to negotiate on the matter is another indicator of administration intents. An unnamed official has said:
“We share an interest in a secure and predictable and orderly cyber environment. We see the bilateral U.S.-China working group as an important forum and vehicle for fulfilling our responsibilities and for making progress, so we certainly would like to see the earliest practical resumption of that forum.”
DHS released its 2014 Quadrennial Homeland Security Review on June 18. Despite administration carryings-on about the growth of the cyber threat in complexity and numbers of intrusions, the DHS strategic plan is written in general terms and effectively says nothing we haven’t heard before about “protecting critical infrastructure” from cyber depredations. However, at the very end of its cyber section, the plan strongly hints at the courts and negotiation approach in saying:
“Internationally, DHS will work with the Department of State and other partners to build global networks to share vital cybersecurity information and help enable international response to cyber incidents. DHS, with our partners, will also work to harmonize international laws to effectively combat transnational cybercrime.”
The most revealing—and troubling—indicator of administration cybersecurity intent comes from a 40-page draft State Department report dated July 2 and obtained by Inside Cybersecurity. The year-long study was done by State’s International Security Advisory Board, chaired by former Senator Gary Hart with the writing done under the supervision of retired Army General Montgomery Meigs.
As Inside Cybersecurity says, the study is an "effort to craft a "framework for international cyber stability" and endorses "ongoing work on international norms of behavior for cyberspace and urging industry involvement, though the document fails to break much new ground.” However, the opening paragraphs of the report reveal the administration’s intent to focus on negotiations, one might say in the spirit of 21st-century “international norming:”