China’s name has been linked to some massive cybersecurity breaches this year, making the country no stranger to cyberfraud accusations.
From the attack on health care provider Anthem, which comprised the data of as many as 78.8 million customer records, to the more recent data breach at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management that led to cybercriminals accessing over 21 million Social Security numbers, 19.7 million forms with data and 1.1 million fingerprint records, Chinese hackers seem to always be the likely suspect.
While the country continues to deny its involvement in such cyber threats, the Chinese government has been accused by several countries for being too lackadaisical in controlling cyberattacks originating from within its borders.
But the Obama Administration is reportedly taking a step toward holding the country’s companies and individuals who have benefited from their government’s cyber theft accountable, The Washington Post reported over the weekend.
According to several administration officials, who reportedly spoke to WP under the condition of anonymity, the U.S. government will make a final decision soon on whether it will finalize the package of economic sanctions it has drafted against China.
Officials believe Chinese hackers have used cybercriminal tactics to steal U.S. trade secrets, from nuclear power plant designs to search engine source code. If the sanctions go through, they will serve as a significant public response to increasing number of cybercrime activities Chinese hackers are believed to be behind.
The decision will come in the midst of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s expected arrival in Washington, D.C., next month for his state visit.
According to the WP, the White House would not comment on specific sanctions, but a senior administration official, said: “As the president said when signing the executive order enabling the use of economic sanctions against malicious cyber actors, the administration is pursuing a comprehensive strategy to confront such actors. That strategy includes diplomatic engagement, trade policy tools, law enforcement mechanisms, and imposing sanctions on individuals or entities that engage in certain significant, malicious cyber-enabled activities. The administration has taken and continues to introduce steps to protect our networks and our citizens in cyberspace, and we are assessing all of our options to respond to these threats in a manner and timeframe of our choosing.”
Earlier this year during the White House Cybersecurity Summit at Stanford University, President Obama provided comments alluding to the fact that cyberspace has become today’s “Wild West” and as the country’s leader, he has positioned himself as sheriff.
“Just as we’re all connected like never before, we have to work together like never before, both to seize opportunities but also meet the challenges of this information age,” Obama said at the summit, according to an NPR report. “It’s one of the great paradoxes of our time that the very technologies that empower us to do great good can also be used to undermine us and inflict great harm.”
While time will only tell if the economic sanctions actually move forward and what the Chinese government’s reaction will be, it has reportedly been making its own attempts to crack down on cybercrime both within and outside of the country.
Last week, Chinese police arrested 15,000 people for allegedly committing cybercrimes, which came as a result of the investigations of more than 7,400 cases involving offenses such as hacking, online fraud and the illegal sale of personal information.
Many of the investigations were said to a part of the country’s recent launch of a six-month special operation to wipe out Internet-related criminal activity, also known as “cleaning the Internet.”
The Ministry of Public Security said the initiative has been able to target those accused of illegally accessing the websites of companies, banks and government agencies.