Following revelations by the New York Times this week that Chinese hackers -- believed to be connected to the military -- infiltrated the newspaper's computer system, the U.S. government is considering taking action.
Salon noted Thursday that a cyber-security firm discovered that hackers had used a common tactic known as spearsphishing to spy on the computers of Times reporters investigating the vast personal wealth of Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. Other news outlets, including the AP, the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg, reported that they too had been targeted by Chinese hackers and, as the Guardian noted Friday, experts believe that the Chinese government routinely employs a "vast army of hackers" to carry out covert spying campaigns.
The Obama administration is considering more assertive action against this cyber-threat. According to the AP, "cyber-security experts said the U.S. government is eyeing more pointed diplomatic and trade measures." Via the AP:
Although the administration hasn't yet decided what steps it may take, actions could include threats to cancel certain visas or put major purchases of Chinese goods through national security reviews.
"The U.S. government has started to look seriously at more assertive measures and begun to engage the Chinese on senior levels," said James Lewis, a cybersecurity expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "They realize that this is a major problem in the bilateral relationship that threatens to destabilize U.S. relations with China."
The Chinese government vociferously denies targeting U.S. journalists and called the Times' claims "baseless." The Guardian's Paul Harris reported Friday that the precise relationship between Chinese hackers who have spied on Western journalists and the Chinese government is known. "Their organizational structure is still unclear – the hackers could be on the People's Liberation Army's payroll, or just as easily be loosely-affiliated vigilante organizations operating with tacit government approval, like renegade consulting companies," Harris noted.