Cybersecurity a key bilateral issue for White House, and not just with China

The Obama administration is trying to build international norms in the wake of the China hacker indictments.

The Justice Department's indictment last month of five Chinese military officers for alleged cyber-espionage sent a shockwave through Sino-American relations, surprising some cybersecurity experts and leaving all to divine Washington's next move on the issue.

China reacted furiously, canceling a bilateral cyber working group and, through its state media, labeling U.S. tech firms like Facebook and Microsoft threats to state security. But a senior White House official is sanguine on the prospects of China rejoining the dialogue and points to recent cooperation with the Australian government as evidence of the administration's intent in global cyberspace.

A summary of U.S.-Australia relations issued by the White House last week included a generic sentence about improving cooperation on "cyber defense and cybersecurity incident response." The Obama administration sees Australia's cybersecurity capabilities as steadily maturing and will look to the two countries' computer emergency response teams (CERTs) to share cyber-threat information, the White House official told FCW in a June 16 interview.

The United States "has been trying to increase cooperation in these areas with likeminded countries across the board," the official added. Cybersecurity collaboration is intuitive for the United States with allies like Australia, with which the U.S. shares a common language and similar legal systems, the official noted.

Cybersecurity has also emerged as a theme in U.S. relations with its neighbors. A joint statement of the defense ministers of Canada, Mexico and the United States in April pledged to "share information regarding cyber defense challenges and approaches to address them."

In the coming months, the White House will "continue to press on the international norms piece," the official said. There is likely no one global treaty that would compel China to cease its alleged cyber-espionage, but the White House hopes to clarify international cybersecurity norms through consensus-building with Australia and other allies.

The White House official cited speeches from President Barack Obama at West Point and National Security Advisor Susan Rice at the Center for New American Security as indicators that developing global norms in cyberspace is a "strong theme for the administration," adding that the administration could "make some more concrete statements on that in the next few months."

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