An Inside Look at US-China Relations Regarding Cybersecurity

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An in-depth look at whether or not China is holding up its end of the agreement to cease cyber espionage on U.S. companies and government.

The relationship between China and the United States has changed drastically over the last few years.

The diplomatic understanding between these two countries has significantly improved with time.

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These two countries hold the position of the most developed nations in the world regarding infrastructure and technology.

For an extended period, they have been great rivals in the cybersecurity sector.

This saw both countries sponsoring organizations and groups of hackers to penetrate into different companies belonging to the other country. China-sponsored hackers did compromise a lot of U.S.-based companies.

Subsequently, the U.S. ended up sponsoring its own organizations to hack into China-based companies to get vital information from them.

This type of behaviour brought the two countries to live in hostility amongst themselves. However, dating back to the administration of former U.S. President Barak Obama, relations between the countries started changing for better.

This monumental change happened in 2015 after U.S. President Obama and his administration met with his counterpart, President Xi Jingping of China.

A lot was discussed during the meeting, and one of the top items on the agenda was to address the long-term cyber attacks directed to one another.

In conclusion, the two countries came to a unanimous decision and entered into a mutual agreement to end cyber espionage between them.

This agreement has continually made a cordial relationship between the Republic of China and the United States of America to grow steadily.

As a result, the security of their companies and other tech firms are more assured, though not immune to attacks completely.

Although there has been a transition of power from Barack Obama to the current president Donald Trump, the agreement has kept on. The deal has further been reaffirmed by the current U.S. government when the federal Department of Justice met with the Chinese counterpart.

This comes after a series of pre-determined actions by the current Trump administration resisting and changing almost all deals and laws by the predecessor’s policy.

The agreement between the two countries has helped reduce the number of state-sponsored hackers significantly. This is primarily because there is no assurance of zeroing the number of attacks directed to companies belonging to the other country.

A security firm by the name FireEye has been studying the Chinese behaviours in hacking for years.

The firm’s researchers found that China has frequently changed its tactic in the way it propagates its hacking.

FireEye’s research reveals that after the cybersecurity agreement was signed, China’s hackers changed their usual hacking style.

In fact, China-based hacking groups have increased the amount of attacks that target countries outside of the U.S. while decreasing their attacks on U.S.-based companies and federal entities.

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China-sponsored hackers did compromise a lot of U.S.-based companies.

In their study, FireEye researchers concluded that the shift may not be directly related to the diplomatic approach addressed through the 2015 agreement.

Though it may have had an influence, a number of factors come into play as well—such as political and economic power structures that have shifted since the agreement was made.

Some other research groups, however, argue the opposite. Many notice that the Chinese government has maintained its steady line of attack against U.S. targets, but with a stealthier mode of operation.

Apart from hacking U.S. government agencies, the Chinese hackers have also started to direct their activities to private and softly linked companies to get away with data. This has been seen in recent cyber attacks which have compromised computers belonging to competitors purposed from the U.S.

An example can be seen in the recent CCleaner malware attack of September 2017. After it commenced on more than a dozen targeted companies, it was revealed that the attack may have originated from a hacking group in China.

This was presumed so because the source code belonging to the recent attack has a similar code style to that used by previous Chinese hackers. This attack affected its target computers by attaching a malware program that took remote control of the devices without the owners’ knowledge.

In this case, the hackers involved used a backdoor from a security tool used by software distributor Avast. Among the infected computers included those from vital tech firms around the American soil.

They affected 20 systems of U.S. tech firms, according to research done by the Cisco Talos security organization. The affected companies include VMware, Intel, and Cisco itself.

According to most researchers, there is a strong link between the recent attacks to what was experienced some time ago from the Chinese. This is assumed so from the fact that the servers used by the hackers were set to the Chinese time zone.

Similarly, the primary and secondary malware planted in most U.S. computer systems has the same code used by a group of hackers called the Axiom. The group of hackers was believed to have their origin from China, hence connecting the recent hackers to China.

The security firm FireEye has noted other instances where Chinese hackers have penetrated U.S.-based organizations. They specified the motive of the attack was to compromise the vital information of the American private sector.

According to security research, a group of hackers in April 2016 known as Wekby did compromise a lot of U.S. industries, including petrochemical, technology and insurance industries, to give them a cutting edge in the business world.

Amidst all these allegations of the Chinese government continuing with its hacking directed to the United States, it is suspected that the hackers might not be directly tied to China’s government but rather people using same tactics as the Chinese state sponsored hackers did.

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According to experts, the current Trump administration is now faced with a different menace of nuclear attack from North Korea.

According to experts, the current Trump administration is now faced with a different menace of nuclear attack from North Korea.

This has made President Trump reluctant to address cyber attacks directed to them by the Chinese hackers.

The American government has been in talks with China and other economic powers to mitigate the North Korean menace before it gets out of hand, hence creating a suitable environment for the hackers to penetrate the U.S. without lots of attention on them.

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