US and China working on vague cyberattack peace treaty

21 Sep 2015

Reminiscent of the deals signed between the US and the Soviet Union, the US and China are seeking to sign a deal that would prohibit the two countries from engaging in cyberattacks against critical infrastructure during peace time.

For the last number of years, the US and China have been covertly firing digital missiles back and forth in the form of cyberattacks, including last June when it was alleged China was behind a very damaging cyberattack against the Pentagon.

The attack saw millions of civil employees’ information, including some of their most personal data, taken as part of the infiltration, which could potentially be used to blackmail government employees.

As part of this new potential deal, however, institutions in both countries could be off limits to the government hackers in a bid to ease tensions between the two countries, according to The New York Times.

Based on UN guidelines

The talks have been ongoing for a number of weeks now, but are looking to be concluded ahead of this week’s rather important visit of the Chinese president Xi Jinping to the White House on Thursday.

Much of the guidelines that the US and China are expected to agree upon relate to the previously released code of conduct announced by the United Nations think-tank on cybersecurity, which calls on nations not to conduct a cyberattack “that intentionally damages critical infrastructure or otherwise impairs the use and operation of critical infrastructure to provide services to the public”.

However, the proposed agreement does have limitations.

US issues threat against offending nations

Cyberattacks against major corporations are unlikely to fall under the treaty, such as the one that saw Sony Pictures attacked at the end of last year, it is thought by North Korea, prior to their release of the film The Interview.

Also, if the two countries were to be engaged in actual physical warfare, any agreement would become null and void.

President Obama has raised the issue of the US’s cybersecurity a number of times in recent months and, at the Business Roundtable event last week, laid down a show of strength to any foreign leader listening.

“If we wanted to go on offense, a whole bunch of countries would have some significant problems,” Obama said.

US and China flags image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic