US: Biden declined to sanction China for cyberattacks because allies lacked 'consensus' on punishment

US: Biden declined to sanction China for cyberattacks because allies lacked 'consensus' on punishment
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President Joe Biden declined to impose a direct punishment for a massive cyberattack blamed on Chinese intelligence officials because U.S. allies aren’t prepared to join in such a confrontational step, according to a key U.S. official.

Biden’s team accused China’s Ministry of State Security last month of maintaining a network of “criminal contract hackers” responsible for a Microsoft Exchange attack that affected "tens of thousands of computers around the world.” That denunciation was echoed by allies around the world, including an unprecedented statement by NATO, but Biden stopped short of imposing the kinds of sanctions that characterized his response to analogous attacks by Russia.

“There's a broader consensus around the need to call out bad behavior [by Russia] and impose cost when it crosses a significant line,” White House deputy national security adviser Anne Neuberger told the Aspen Security Forum. “In the case of China, there’s still that building of consensus around malicious cyber activity, around the need to call it out together, work collectively on defense, and work collectively on consequences as well.”

Chinese spy agencies are also responsible for “ransomware” attacks against Americans, according to U.S. officials, although they did not identify the companies targeted.

BIDEN INTEL AND DOJ OFFICIALS GRILLED BY CRUZ OVER LACK OF SANCTIONS FOR CHINA CYBERATTACKS

"This was surprising to us," a senior administration official told reporters last month. ”And, in fact, one of the reasons that we've put so much work into this attribution is because it really gave us new insights on the MSS's work and on the kind of aggressive behavior that we're seeing coming out of China."

That finding was aired just weeks after Biden met Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva, where he threatened Russia with retaliatory cyberattacks on energy pipelines if the Kremlin failed to restrain hacking networks based within Russian borders that have targeted U.S. infrastructure. That meeting took place in the wake of Biden’s imposition of sanctions on Russia for the hacking of Solarwinds, a software company that like Microsoft Exchange, also supports thousands of computers.

The disparity between his response to the Russian and Chinese operations left congressional Republicans dissatisfied.

“It is imperative that you and your administration do more to dissuade hostile cyber activity by the People’s Republic of China against us and our allies,” Alabama Rep. Mike Rogers, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, wrote in a July 21 letter.

The public condemnation of China united most of the key nations that Biden hopes will form an “alliance of democracies” to counter Beijing. Neuberger, the White House official, emphasized that the U.S. still has the option of imposing sanctions or retaliating in some other fashion but reiterated their desire to such a step at a moment when they can persuade the rest of those democratic nations to punish China as well.

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“You saw us take the more step-by-step approach of building that consensus, bringing countries along, establishing that norm, in the case of the Microsoft Exchange hack,” she said. “Which doesn't preclude follow-on activities, but emphasizes the Biden administration's approach to not go at it alone, but instead to use a sequential, thoughtful approach to bring partners along, establish those norms of accepted behavior in cyberspace, and then take it from there.”

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Tags: News, Foreign Policy, National Security, China, Russia, Joe Biden, Cybersecurity, NATO

Original Author: Joel Gehrke

Original Location: US: Biden declined to sanction China for cyberattacks because allies lacked 'consensus' on punishment

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