Editor’s Note: This article is the second in a three-part series on legal issues surrounding computer hacking and cyberspying. You can read Part One here.
Experts have noticed that most hacking efforts against American businesses are using “the least amount of sophistication necessary,” thus making hackers’ activities relatively easy to detect. However, the biggest obstacle in combatting computer hacking has been the sheer frequency with which such operations are conducted. Additionally, it is not helpful that most governments are both engaging in and combatting computer hacking.
In February last year, a report was released by a cybersecurity firm, Mandiant, which revealed a secret military unit of the People’s Republic of China that had been engaging in widespread economic espionage. The report, called APT1 (pdf), found that hundreds of terabytes of data had been stolen from at least 141 organizations, with 87% of these companies headquartered in English-speaking countries. Moreover, the organizations that have been targeted match many of the industries China has listed as strategic to its growth.
In an effort to publicly curb this state-sponsored hacking effort, the US Department of Justice recently charged five Chinese military hackers for various forms of economic espionage and computer hacking. The indictment, issued last month by a grand jury impaneled by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, specifically points to proprietary information stolen from six American businesses in the nuclear power, metals, and solar products industries. Yet, there is no extradition treaty between the United States and China, and it is incredibly unlikely China will turn these officials over to the United States voluntarily. The situation is symbolic of the Obama Administration’s frustration with fruitless negotiation efforts to curb this epidemic.
Additionally, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang vehemently denies the allegations against the five officials, asserting the Chinese government and military has never engaged in cyber theft, and that China is merely a victim of U.S. cyberespionage. Attorney General Eric Holder responded that the U.S. “[does] not collect intelligence to provide competitive advantage” to American companies.
Due to leaks of classified information by former National Security Agency analyst Edward Snowden, it is widely known that the U.S. government has at the very least been engaging in extensive electronic surveillance of domestic businesses and citizens, as well as of world leaders. One NSA program, PRISM, is able to access information on the servers of some of the America’s biggest companies, including Google, Apple, and Microsoft, under the guise of little-understood law. Snowden himself allegedly has about 1.7 million documents and has given journalists access to about 200,000 of them.
Thus, the big question at the moment is what other information is the government collecting, and why do they not want to discuss it? By putting up an impenetrable wall, the United States government only widens the lens that has been placed on them by media and inquisitive citizens. Hopefully, “we the people” will receive forthright answers in a timely fashion.