Cybersecurity

Debating the Sino-Russian cyber pact

Instagram image: Representative Mike Rogers (R-MI).

Mike Rogers, former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, warned that Russia and China will focus their cyber resources on the U.S. and other Western economies.

A former top U.S. lawmaker has weighed in on an ongoing public debate on the severity of the Russian and Chinese cyber threats to American assets, casting a new pact between the two countries as an attempt to set up an alternate, heavily censored Internet.

“You have both of these huge cyber resources now cooperating, which means … the Russians don’t have to worry about the Chinese, the Chinese don’t have to worry about the Russians,” said Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican who chaired the House Intelligence Committee before retiring at the end of the 113th Congress. As a result, Russia and China are “going to focus those resources on the United States and, I think, any innovative economy in the world,” he warned on May 12 in an appearance at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C.

Rogers was referring to a cyber “nonaggression” pact that Moscow and Beijing agreed to on May 8 – ironically, the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe, which began with a nonaggression pact between Josef Stalin’s Soviet Union and Adolf Hitler’s Germany.

Rather than dividing Poland, Russia and China in this instance agreed not to hack each other and to work together to thwart technology that might “destabilize the internal political and socio-economic atmosphere,” “disturb public order” or “interfere with the internal affairs of the state,” according to a Wall Street Journal report.

Rogers’ deep concern with the Sino-Russian agreement was not shared by Jason Healey, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Cyber Statecraft Initiative, who said he would be surprised if the pact translates to a direct order to state actors to refrain from hacking. The cybersecurity measure was one of 32 agreements reached by Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping. The cooperation more than anything reflected the frailty of the Russian economy, Healey said in an interview.

But Healey, a former member of a cyber war-fighting unit in the Air Force, did not downplay a Russian cyber threat that U.S. officials have labeled the most acute among nation-states to American interests.  

Putin’s belief that he is in a contest for supremacy with the West makes the threat of a disruptive digital attack in retaliation for Western sanctions a real possibility, Healey said, adding that this is “the most dangerous cyber moment that I can remember” in two decades.

The issue of intellectual property is ever present as tensions in cyberspace build between the United States on one hand and China and Russia on the other. According to Rogers, Moscow and Beijing may increasingly be on the same wavelength in seeing cyberspace as a medium for inflicting economic damage on the United States. Current and former U.S. lawmakers have long accused the Chinese government of stealing IP, but Rogers said he was concerned that the Russian government may have “turned the corner” in seeing cyber capabilities as a means of hurting U.S. economic interests.

Rogers’ assessment came the same day that root9B, a cybersecurity firm, announced it had uncovered plans by a Russian hacking group to hit multiple international financial institutions, including TD Bank and Bank of America. 

About the Author

Sean Lyngaas is a former FCW staff writer.

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