When Chinese president Xi Jinping visited the White House in September, many observers saw it as the beginning of a new accord on cybersecurity between the two nations. Now, we may be seeing the first results of that accord. According to The Washington Post, China has arrested "a handful" of Chinese nationals for economic espionage against US firms, apparently as a show of good faith in cyberespionage talks. Notably, the accused individuals appear to have been hand-picked by US officials. "We gave them a list," an unnamed source told the Post, "and we said, 'Look, here’s these guys. Round them up.'"
It's unclear which cases are involved in the new crackdown, but US officials would have had plenty of incidents to choose from. Trade secret theft has reached epidemic levels in recent years, most recently with an attack on Samsung Pay vendor LoopPay revealed earlier this month. As is often the case, the attack was linked back to Chinese IP addresses. Still, prosecuting these attacks has proven difficult, both because of the international nature of the case and because of China's historically lax policy towards American intellectual property.
Even with Chinese cooperation, prosecuting these cases will present an unprecedented challenge. The cases will be tried in Chinese court, and US companies may be wary of providing too much internal data out of concerns it could be used as fodder for future attacks. Still, if the cases are successful, they could provide a powerful model for future trans-pacific prosecutions and a longterm deterrent against international IP thefts.