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US Ponders Dealing With Cyber Attacks

  • Pamela Dockins

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testifies on Capitol Hill in, March 12, 2013.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testifies on Capitol Hill in, March 12, 2013.

U.S. efforts to strengthen economic ties with China have been hampered by reports of Chinese cyber attacks. Analysts have mixed views on how to address the concern.

In a March hearing, National Intelligence Director James Clapper said cyber attacks and cyber espionage had become top security threats to the United States.

He told a Senate committee that state and non-state entities have been gaining experience in how to use cyber capabilities to gather sensitive information, control content and challenge perceived enemies in cyber space.

“These capabilities put all sectors of our country at risk, from government and private networks to critical infrastructures," said Clapper.

His testimony came in the wake of a report from the Mandiant Internet security firm that accused the Chinese government of involvement in a sophisticated campaign of cyber attacks against U.S. organizations.

The U.S.-based security firm said a group linked to China's People's Liberation Army had systematically stolen confidential information from several U.S. industries.

Some industry officials say it is time for retaliation against China, not just diplomatic action.

Analysts debated that issue on VOA's Encounter program.

Jessica Herrera-Flanigan of the Monument Policy Group says the U.S. needs to take a multilateral approach to any trade-related retaliation.

Herrera-Flanigan says she has also heard discussions of retaliation through offensive actions, such as cyber attacks on China's technical systems. She cautioned against this approach.

"We have to be very, very careful," said Herrera-Flanigan. "One, you don’t really know who you are attacking. You also don’t know what kind of reaction they may have and what the counterattack is going to look like and we don’t want to go down that road. "

The Atlantic Council's Jason Healey says the U.S. government should take a direct approach in dealing with any cyber attacks from China.

"We can follow the lead that cyber security company Mandiant did by coming public with facts that will make it difficult for the Chinese to deny and hopefully catch them in their own lies that they are not involved," said Healey.

The Chinese government has denied involvement and says it is also a victim of cyber attacks.

Meanwhile, U.S. defense officials have announced plans to create 13 teams of programmers and experts who would help defend the country against foreign computer attacks.

The Pentagon says the teams will be part of a broader effort to help shield the U.S. from Internet-based attacks that could harm the infrastructure.

Herrera-Flanigan says it is a forward-looking approach. "It is preparing for the next battlefield in a lot of ways," she said.

She says the U.S. is looking at assets that could be affected by a military attack from abroad.

Healey says this is not a new approach for the U.S., but one that actually has been evolving over the years.

"I have a concerned shrug about it," he said. "Meaning that there is not much here that I saw that is particularly new. We have had offensive forces for at least 15 years in cyber space."

He says what has changed is that the U.S. government is now being more open about cyber attacks and what it intends to do.