The United States and China are pursuing a first-of-its-kind cyberwarfare accord, according to a report in the New York Times. The deal is expected to be announced this coming week when China’s Prime Minister, Xi Jinping, visits the United States.
Vikram Singh, a former Pentagon and State Department official who is now vice president of international security at the Center for American Progress, told the Times’ David E. Sanger that such an agreement would mark the first time that a country’s computer military capability would be treated and governed in the same way that its nuclear, chemical or biological capabilities might.
According to the Times report, the deal would likely adhere to tenets laid out by a United Nations working group, which would include a ban on activity that “intentionally damages critical infrastructure or otherwise impairs the use and operation of critical infrastructure to provide services to the public.” It is not expected to address the use of tools to steal intellectual property, or attacks on individual private companies like Huawei or Sony.
The two countries have spent the past several years accusing each other of cyber-espionage, hacking and theft. According to a report published this week by the security firm Trend Micro, a Chinese government hacking group is responsible for stealing trillions of bytes’ worth of U.S. security data. That report’s authors called China’s cyberattacks against U.S. military interests “advanced, persistent and ongoing.”
The United States has done some hacking of its own. A 2013 investigation by the German newspaper Der Spiegel revealed that the National Security Agency has spent years building backdoors and ways into nearly all of the world’s largest computer networking companies, including Cisco and Juniper.
The surveillance and hacking has grown so endemic that it has forced both sides to take extremely nuanced positions on each other’s activities. China’s theft of 22 million government personnel files this summer, for example, was not an attack but an act of intelligence gathering, according to U.S. Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper.
President Xi is scheduled to visit Washington this coming Thursday.