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Obama administration considering options to escalate response to Chinese cyberattacks

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china / chinese flag (STOCK)
china / chinese flag (STOCK)

After years of accusations over Chinese government-sponsored hacks of American companies and agencies, the US government looks to be taking a more agressive stance. The Wall Street Journal reports that the Obama administration is looking into an array of options to send a message to China and proactively defend against future attacks.

Current officials and others who have recently left the government inform the paper that the administration is considering using the Justice Department to prosecute individuals connected to the hacks. While it's unlikely that China would release its citizens for US prosecution, the indictments could limit where suspects could travel out of fear of being released into US custody. Other options include placing sanctions on Chinese companies said to be involved in the attacks, or placing visa restrictions on suspected hackers, like researchers working for the Chinese military. The administration is also said to be considering a formal complaint to the World Trade Organization. Lastly, the US could consider offensive or defensive countermeasures against the cyberattacks.

New evidence suggests with 95 percent certainty that China is behind attacks

All of the options would signal to the Chinese government that the US is taking the hacks seriously. US response has historically been tepid, possibly out of a reluctance to further strain Chinese relations considering American economic and national security interests in the region. According to The Wall Street Journal, new evidence uncovered by the US that shows with 95 percent certainty that workers at Chinese military facilities in Beijing and Shanghai were behind attacks has spurred on a stronger response.

Earlier this year, the hacks drew national attention when The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and other US companies revealed they had been attacked. After suspicions that the Chinese military has sponsored the attacks, research from Mandiant provided further basis to those claims. China has consistently denied any involvement, and it recently agreed to collaborate with the US to prevent future attacks. Officials tell the Journal that they do not expect the efforts to prevent future attacks, and the government has moved ahead with plans to respond to the hacks. Congress passed a bill last month limiting certain US agencies from purchasing IT equipment from Chinese companies, and the report says the Obama administration sent a secret formal diplomatic protest to the Chinese in January, escalating the situation. The hacks against media companies were seen as attempts to cover up criticism of the Chinese government, while others against US companies and government agencies are suspected to go after technological advancements.