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China’s response to US accusations of cyber spying

Posted by on June 5, 2014.

Poster for the film 'Hornet's Nest' - source Wikipedia

Poster for the film ‘Hornet’s Nest’ – source Wikipedia

When the US authorities indicted five Chinese military on cyber espionage charges it gave the appearance of arrogance over diplomacy. Here was a country recently revealed to be the world’s most prolific cyber spy accusing another country of doing similar. What was the point of this? There will never be a trial, conviction or sentence — and certainly no serving of a sentence. It’s like poking a hornet’s just for the fun of it; or perhaps it’s just a case of telling your own people that you’re not afraid of hornets.

But you should be a little more circumspect on how you treat hornets. There are an awful lot of them, and they can pack a serious economic sting; and they’re beginning to look a little bit riled.

Last week the People’s Daily responded:

Experts from several communities think that the groundless U.S. accusations about China are intended to distract attention from its internet snooping and ease pressure from the international community. The U.S. surveillance is a kind of cyber hegemony. It is ridiculous to see it levelling accusations at others instead of engaging in some introspection cirected [sic] towards its own activities.

Regarding cyber security, the U.S. can be considered to be the world’s biggest eavesdropper and the biggest attacker of China’s cyber space. For a long time, the U.S. has launched large-scale surveillance and cyber attacks targeted at the Chinese government, and at its institutions, companies, universities, etc.

The first practical response was to start a boycott of US products. China has banned government use of Windows 8 (not a bad idea: see Is Windows 8 an NSA trojan?) and has expanded this to include IBM mainframes:

Government agencies, including the People’s Bank of China and the Ministry of Finance, are asking banks to remove the IBM servers and replace them with a local brand as part of a trial program, said the four people, who asked not to be identified because the review hasn’t been made public.
Bloomberg: China Said to Study IBM Servers for Bank Security Risks

If this is the start of a Chinese boycott against US tech companies the effect on the US economy — never mind the companies themselves — could be severe.

There is no sign that China is ready to back down. Yesterday Reuters reported:

“U.S. companies including Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, etc. are all coordinating with the PRISM programme to monitor China,” the People’s Daily said on its official microblog.

“To resist the naked Internet hegemony, we will draw up international regulations, and strengthen technology safeguards, but we will also severely punish the pawns of the villain. The priority is strengthening penalties and punishments, and for anyone who steals our information, even though they are far away, we shall punish them!” it said.
China state media calls for ‘severe punishment’ for Google, Apple, U.S. tech firms

The moral of this story is that you shouldn’t poke a hornet’s nest if all you’re wearing is the Emperor’s new clothes.

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