WASHINGTON — Evidence of an unrelenting campaign of cyberstealing linked to the Chinese government is prompting the Obama administration to develop more aggressive responses to the theft of U.S. government data and corporate trade secrets.
The Obama administration is expected to announce new measures Wednesday, including possible fines and other trade actions against China or any other country guilty of cyber-espionage. Officials familiar with the administration’s plans spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the threatened action.
The Chinese government denies being involved in the cyberattacks cited in a cybersecurity firm’s analysis of breaches that compromised more than 140 companies. On Wednesday, China’s Defense Ministry called the report deeply flawed.
Mandiant, a Virginia-based cybersecurity firm, released a torrent of details Monday that tied a secret Chinese military unit in Shanghai to years of cyberattacks against U.S. companies. Mandiant concluded that the breaches can be linked to the People’s Liberation Army’s Unit 61398.
Military experts believe the unit is part of the People’s Liberation Army’s cybercommand, which is under the direct authority of the General Staff Department, China’s version of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. As such, its activities would be likely to be authorized at the highest levels of China’s military.
The release of the Mandiant report, complete with details on three of the alleged hackers and photographs of one of the military unit’s buildings in Shanghai, makes public what U.S. authorities have said less publicly for years. But it also increases the pressure on the U.S. to take more forceful action against the Chinese for what experts say has been years of systematic espionage.
“If the Chinese government flew planes into our airspace, our planes would escort them away. If it happened two, three or four times, the president would be on the phone and there would be threats of retaliation,” said Shawn Henry, former FBI executive assistant director. “This is happening thousands of times a day. There needs to be some definition of where the red line is and what the repercussions would be.”