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U.S. to lodge formal protest with China over alleged cyberattacks

State Department will present concerns in Beijing next week

January 15, 2010 01:29 PM ET

Computerworld - The U.S. will lodge a formal protest with China over the nation's alleged involvement in cyberattacks against Google.

The U.S. Department of State will issue an official demarche in Beijing early next week expressing U.S. concerns over the attacks and demanding an explanation, State Department spokesman Philip Crowley was quoted as saying in a Reuters report.

Google earlier this week said that it had been the target of cyberattacks by agents who appeared to be working at the behest of the Chinese government.

More than 30 other companies also appear to have been targeted in the same attacks prompting widespread concern over state-sponsored cyberattacks originating from China.

The formal U.S. protest follows a meeting between David Shear, the deputy assistant secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific and the Chinese Embassy's deputy chief of mission in Washington.

In a press briefing yesterday, Crowley did not disclose details of the meeting or where it was held other than to say that it wasn't held at the Chinese embassy or the State Department offices.

"It is a serious issue," Crowley said. "The incident raises questions about both Internet freedom and the security of the Internet in China. And we've asked them for an explanation," he said.

According to Crowley, Google informed the State Department of its concerns and of the attacks against it before going public with the news earlier this week. Similar concerns have been raised in the past on numerous occasions, he said.

"I would put this particular situation in the context of similar discussions and similar questions that have been raised as China has evolved and as its economy and its economic impact has grown," he said. "We have had discussions with China going back for some time over questions of network security, questions of Internet freedom," and these are questions the state department will continue to ask, he said.

While the decision to file a formal protest marks an escalation of sorts on the U.S. government's part it is unlikely to make much of a difference in the short term at least.

Many security analysts say these kinds of cyber attacks are unlikely to be deterred by policy statements or expressions of protest given the enormous economic stakes involved. At that same time they also concede there is nothing the government can do by way of launching retaliatory attacks or initiating other non-diplomatic forms of response against cyber-adversaries operating out of China.

As a result, it's going to be left largely to the businesses targeted by such attacks to defend themselves, analysts said.

For many it will mean implementing new controls for continuously monitoring their networks and for alerting when anomalous behavior occurs.

Jaikumar Vijayan covers data security and privacy issues, financial services security and e-voting for Computerworld. Follow Jaikumar on Twitter at Twitter@jaivijayan, send e-mail to jvijayan@computerworld.com or subscribe to Jaikumar's RSS feed Vijayan RSS.

Read more about Security in Computerworld's Security Topic Center.



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