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US national security advisor warns China: 'We will take action... against cyber threats'

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President Obama and national security advisor Tom Donilon
President Obama and national security advisor Tom Donilon

The White House is talking tougher in its growing public conflict with China over cyber attacks on American businesses, which have reportedly been linked back to hackers operating within China's boundaries. On Monday, Tom Donilon, the US national security advisor to President Obama, gave a lengthy address to the Asia Society in New York City, delivering the White House's sternest warning yet to China that the US could retaliate against suspected Chinese cyber attacks if and when it sees fit.

"Increasingly, US businesses are speaking out about their serious concerns about sophisticated, targeted theft of confidential business information and proprietary technologies through cyber intrusions emanating from China on an unprecedented scale," Donilon said in his prepared remarks posted on The White House website. "The international community cannot afford to tolerate such activity from any country. As the President said in the State of the Union, we will take action to protect our economy against cyber threats."

"The United States will do all it must to protect our national networks."

Donilon later added: "The United States will do all it must to protect our national networks, critical infrastructure, and our valuable public and private sector property." He also said that the US government was looking for three specific responses from China's government when it comes to addressing the supposed cyber attacks originating from the country: a "recognition of the urgency and scope of this problem" of alleged Chinese hacking on US businesses; "serious steps" by the Chinese government to stop the attacks; and "direct dialogue" between the US and China to establish "acceptable norms" for cyberspace.

The remarks come less than two months after The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal published articles saying they had suffered cyber attacks on employee computers, which had been traced back to China. Employees at Apple, Facebook and Twitter were also recently victims of hacks allegedly stemming from a single compromised developer site, but that attack hasn't been publicly sourced yet, aside from reports speculating the attacks came from Eastern Europe. A new report out today suggests the attacks on those tech companies were part of a broader campaign that included other US car companies, a candy manufacturer and US government agencies.