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US official: China will pay the price for its cyber attacks

The US is heaping more pressure on China over its alleged use of hackers and cyber attacks, with a senior official claiming the country’s behaviour is putting off foreign investors.

The comments came from Robert Hormats, Undersecretary of State for Economic, Business and Agricultural Affairs, who spoke to Reuters after appearing at the US-China Internet Industry Forum in Beijing yesterday. Hormats said the scale of attacks originating in China was breeding mistrust in the States and among the wider business community, as he urged for a cyber truce between the two super powers.

“The cyber intrusions are particularly troubling because they've gotten so much visibility lately that the intensified visibility is really undermining a lot of business confidence of people who would otherwise invest here," Hormats said.

US organisations have repeatedly accused the Chinese of stealing data, spying on networks, and crashing American machines in recent years, and a recent study from security firm Mandiant reported that an “overwhelming percentage” of US-targeted cyber attacks originated from a state-run military location in Shanghai.

"The Chinese really need to take a look at this and decide if it's in their interest for these policies to continue," Hormats said. "It's important to have a dialogue on this, but it's also important that the dialogue be a means to an end, and the end is really ending these practices."

China has nevertheless remained steadfast in its rebuttal of US allegations, and reiterated its stance against illicit online activity at the forum in Beijing. Qian Xiaoqian, China's vice minister of the State Internet Information, said the country does not abuse the Internet and added that "We shouldn't militarise cyberspace… Such attacks violate the rights of other countries and also moral standards."

Hormats has already been on the offensive regarding Chinese cyber conduct this year, accusing the People’s Republic of stealing intellectual property from US companies."We have repeatedly raised our concerns about trade secret theft by any means at the highest levels with senior Chinese officials and we will continue to do so," he said at the time.

The US is becoming increasingly wary of its vulnerability in the cyber sphere, and security CEO and author Phillip Lieberman this week warned that his country is not prepared for attacks from abroad, and predicted that the US’s critical national infrastructure would soon come under significant attack.

Image: Flickr (Philip Jägenstedt)