Lawmakers want cyber on the agenda at the G20 summit in China

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Six Democratic senators have asked President Barack Obama to raise the issue of cyberattacks on financial institutions when he meets with China's President Xi Jinping on Sept. 2 as part of his final G20 Leaders Summit.

The request comes in part in response to the theft of $81 million from the Central Bank of Bangladesh by hackers linked to North Korea. The attack targeted vulnerabilities in the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) financial messaging service.

The lawmakers, led by Sens. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), wrote in the Aug. 29 letter that "if we are to successfully combat sophisticated cyberattacks, members of the international community must work collaboratively given the dispersed nature of both attackers and targets. Our financial institutions are connected in order to facilitate global commerce, but cyber criminals -- whether independent or state-sponsored -- imperil this international system in a way few threats have. We strongly urge you to work with your counterparts and prioritize this discussion at the G20 leaders level in September."The U.S. and China signed an agreement in 2015 to fight cyber crime and cyber espionage. Its implementation has received mixed reviews. A Rand study released earlier this year argued that the two countries have different perspectives on cyberspace, with the U.S. seeing it as an extension of the rule of law and Chinese officials viewing it as a forum for maintaining state sovereignty.

However, a June report from FireEye states that there has been a marked decline in China-backed hacks of U.S. companies in the past few years.

Martin Libicki, a senior management scientist at Rand and a visiting distinguished professor in the U.S. Naval Academy's Cyber Science Department, told FCW that it might not do Obama much good to argue the senators' case with Chinese leaders.

"Here it is 11 months after the agreement with the Chinese...and they've lived up to [it]," Libicki said. "When you think about the cyber crime, they are not the biggest boys on the block.... The ones to really worry about are the Russians and rightly the North Koreans."

During remarks at an Aug. 30 cybersecurity event, FBI Director James Comey said China is taking its cyber crime agreement with the U.S. seriously.

Libicki said the SWIFT system is a "banker's problem and not a government problem as such."

"If we are talking about SWIFT and you have some sort of organized momentum to improve the security of SWIFT...then yeah, there's a potential for major change, but I don't know if these prerequisites exist," he added. "It could be deep in the world of banking."

About the Author

Aisha Chowdhry is a former staff writer for FCW.


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