China Cyber Attacks: How Washington Can Prepare For the Worst

Imagine logging into your bank account and the screen reads $0.00 you go to the grocery store and it’s closed, or power unexpectedly goes off in the middle of a sunny day. This scenario is a very real possibility, and a report released by Mandiant last week has renewed the debate in Washington over what the United States should do about it. A cyber attack on financial services, American businesses, and critical infrastructure would be catastrophic and cause massive panic and economic turmoil. This is our future if Washington doesn’t take strong action against the cyber attacks threatening the United States.    

Currently, China is the greatest cyber threat to the U.S. On a daily basis, hackers originating in China penetrate U.S. networks and compromise national security and economic competitiveness. According to Joel Brenner, a former senior counsel to the National Security Agency, the Chinese army has trained 30,000 cyber spies and sponsored more than 150,000 private sector cyber experts whose mission is to steal American military and technological secrets and cause mischief in government and financial services. 

There is only one-way to curb China’s appetite for attacking the United States: beat them at their own game, while strengthening our digital security. We live in a Machiavellian world where talking it over is futile. No amount of dialogue or diplomacy is going to stop China (or the U.S.) from stealing intelligence via cyber space. The Cold War may be over, but a new era of espionage has emerged that requires the same level of government attention. Although a military response to hacking is hubris and pointless, Washington can take other steps to thwart China’s digital advances.        

First, the Obama administration needs to strengthen cyber security regulations that would require American businesses to secure data and computer networks. Private industries are currently not required to improve cyber security, and as a result, have failed to protect valuable information that is a critical component of national security and economic growth. Many business and political leaders argue that government intrusion would increase the cost of business and subsequently hurt the economy. However, failing to implement cyber security measures is both economically and publicly damaging. Cyber attacks cost American companies millions and the price tag continues to increase with each passing day. American businesses can no longer afford to neglect cyber security regulations. The failure of the private sector to proactively implement cyber reform jeopardizes U.S. strategic advantages. The U.S. economy and global power depend on the growth, development and innovations of American businesses, which are vulnerable to theft if cyber security reform is not adopted.    

Second, the U.S. should do more to prosecute digital thievery as well as limit the goods imported from China. China is not only pilfering intelligence from afar, but also right from under our noses here in the U.S. Employees are recruited to steal information or plant virus, and products imported from China are infected with Malware. The manufacturing and production of communication and information technology equipment should be limited to the United States. Economic globalization has given China access to tamper with and steal technology during the manufacturing of American goods, including military technology components.      

China and the U.S. are valuable allies and partners in international relations.  However, Washington must continue to protect the interests of the United States, but in a manner that does not jeopardize U.S.-Sino relations or alienate the international community. 

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Rachel Wolters

I am an energetic and creative young professional with expertise in the field of international relations. My specific area of expertise is in US-Sino relations, American foreign policy, cyber policy and the international balance of power. I also have experience in mediation and conflict resolution.

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