The Washington Post’s Ellen Nakashima has reported that the Obama administration are planning a series of ‘unprecedented economic sanctions against Chinese companies and individuals,’ who have gained from the Chinese government’s cybertheft of ‘US trade secrets.’

The news has surfaced just weeks before the Chinese Premier, Xi Jinping, visits Washington for his first state visit. Political insiders have speculated that talk of sanctions this close to an official visit is as about sending Beijing a message that ‘enough is enough,’in regard to cybertheft.

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It is believed that the Chinese government has been behind a sustained barrage of cyber-attacks against US companies in recent years. Experts have argued that US intelligence agencies took too long to realise that China had departed from ‘traditional espionage operations’ such as trying to steal military and civilian technology, until it was too late.

US security agencies had believed that critical infrastructure, such as power stations and phone networks were most at risk, and focused on them accordingly. But China has, allegedly, instead been targeting ‘sensitive business and personal data,’ according to the FBI.

The US has publicly accused China of actively funding dedicated teams of hackers’ intent on stealing commercial secrets, and personal information from American companies. It should be noted that China has strenuously denied the allegations.

While cyber espionage is not uncommon between competing states, the FBI stated last month that ‘economic espionage cases surged 53 percent’ last year, citing that China accounted for most of that increase.

Should the US decide to place economic sanctions against China, it seems that security breaches against US government facilities will not be a factor. Sanctions will instead be aimed at data breaches judged to have directly benefited ‘Chinese industry.’  Espionage at an international level is, apparently, to be expected for ‘traditional intelligence purposes.’

The US government and private sector companies in America are expected to spend in excess of a trillion dollars on cyber defense in the coming decade. This has led to some analysts to declare that cyber warfare between nations will be the battlefield for a new Cold War.

You can read the original and rather excellent article by Ellen Nakashima, in the Washington Post, here.