China brought to heel

Chinese companies accused of profiting from cybercrime with sanctions incoming

The imbalance of trade with Asian countries has been bemoaned in popular culture for years. Whether its been Japanese cars or cheap Taiwanese plastic toys, the United States has loved to gripe about such imports. Occasionally someone even mentions targeting unfair practices in such countries.

It comes as little surprise then that the Obama administration is drafting a series of sanctions against certain Chinese companies. The major surprise may be what actions triggered these sanctions. Allegations of the theft of economic secrets via hacking lie at the root of the administration's allegations.

China heartily contests such claims. The companies being targeted say they aren't controlled by the state, while the Chinese government points toward revealed information from Edward Snowden that says the NSA is spying on Chinese corporations in a similar manner.

China is egregiously missing the point here, and as such sanctions against Chinese corporations who have benefited from state-funded electronic crime should be enacted.

American, and indeed most countries', activity in this arena is targeted against government operations. The state-funded parts of espionage tend to do with political or military objectives. The claim that Huawei, a Chinese telecom company, may have been the victim of the NSA's attention lies more with the fact that they are attached to the Chinese government and less with the idea of the NSA giving such information to some American telecom company to use against Huawei.

China has been getting into more and more hot water concerning cybercrime lately. In May 2014, the United States issued indictments against five Chinese military/intelligence officers for cybercrime-related charges. That such charges led to nothing is beside the point. What remains more important is the fact that such charges were able to be issued with the expectation that a successful court case could be prosecuted.

The damage to the Chinese companies accused of benefiting from economic espionage would be substantial. In the similar vein as our sanctions against Iran, those companies would be banned from doing any kind of business in the United States, thus closing off a very substantial market to said companies.

That such sanctions are coming is a welcome change to merely warning China to knock it off. More importantly though remains the issue of cyber-security in general. Smaller corporations cannot possibly resist the kind of state-funded activities that a country like China can direct against them. Even at the governmental levels, there remain weaknesses. This July saw the theft of roughly 22 million federal personnel records from the Office of Personnel Management.

In light of the general attitude China has exhibited and the unknown capabilities of other actors, caution becomes a must. There is an urgent need for increased security at both the corporate and governmental level. While thefts of economic information or personal information can cause both panic and economic damage, there also exists the terrifying possibility of a more concerted attack, possibly by terrorist groups. There have been concerns voiced over the vast vulnerability of our infrastructure to such an attack. The widespread, intricate, and ever growing nature of our computer networks renders us particularly vulnerable to disruption from cyber-terrorism.

The drafting of the sanctions against the Chinese corporations sends an important message. The United States can not be trifled with easily, and there are repercussions for impinging upon our intellectual information. However, the rapidity, depth, and seeming ease of these assaults upon our electronic resources raises dire specters. The need for comprehensive reforms and policy direction has become frighteningly apparent. We have the brain power to shore up our defenses. It's just up to our government to tap these resources for our mutual defense.

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