White House plans trade actions in wake of cyberespionage

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WASHINGTON -- With public evidence mounting that the Chinese military is behind thefts of massive amounts of U.S. government data and corporate trade secrets, the Obama administration is poised to spell out specific trade actions it may take against Beijing or any other country for cyberespionage.

According to officials familiar with the plans, the White House is eyeing fines, penalties and other trade restrictions as initial, more aggressive steps in response to what top officials say has been an unrelenting campaign of cyberstealing linked to the Chinese government.

The new strategy is to be released Wednesday, said the officials.

The White House plans come after a Virginia-based cybersecurity firm released a torrent of details Monday that tied a secret Chinese military unit in Shanghai to years of cyberattacks against U.S. companies. After analyzing breaches that compromised more than 140 companies, Mandiant has concluded that they can be linked People's Liberation Army's Unit 61398.

Military experts believe the unit is part of the People's Liberation Army's cyber-command, which is under the direct authority of the General Staff Department, China's version of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. As such, its activities would be likely to be authorized at the highest levels of China's military.

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The release of Mandiant's report, complete with details on three of the alleged hackers and photographs of one of the military unit's buildings in Shanghai, makes public what U.S. authorities have said less publicly for years. But it also increases the pressure on the U.S. to take more forceful action against the Chinese for what experts say has been years of systematic espionage."This is happening thousands of times a day," said former FBI executive assistant director Shawn Henry. "There needs to be some definition of where the red line is and what the repercussions would be."

Henry, now president of the security firm CrowdStrike, said that rather than tell companies to increase their cybersecurity the government needs to focus more on how to deter the hackers and the nations that are backing them.

-- AP

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