Senators propose law to go after foreign cybercriminals

After a slew of U.S. companies' Web sites were hacked, a group of bi-partisan senators is looking at getting a new law passed that combats cyber-theft by foreign governments and hackers.

Dara Kerr Former senior reporter
Dara Kerr was a senior reporter for CNET covering the on-demand economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado, went to school in New York City and can never remember how to pronounce gif.
Dara Kerr
2 min read

Shortly after the Pentagon announced the Chinese government has been involved in widespread cyberespionage targeting the U.S. government and businesses, a bipartisan group of senators proposed a new law to fight cyber-theft.

The law, dubbed "Deter Cyber Theft Act," was proposed Tuesday by Democrats Carl Levin and Jay Rockefeller and Republicans John McCain and Tom Coburn, according to Reuters. The goal of the legislation is to protect commercial data from foreign hackers and governments.

Several foreign countries, including Russia, Israel, and France, have been blamed for spying on U.S. government Web sites or American businesses, but China has gotten the lion's share of these accusations.

According to the Pentagon's annual report to Congress, which was published on Monday, China maintained a steady campaign of computer intrusions in 2012 that were designed to acquire information about the U.S. government's foreign policy and military plans. While U.S. officials have raised such allegations before, the tenor of the charges has been steadily increasing in recent months.

"China continues to leverage foreign investments, commercial joint ventures, academic exchanges, the experience of repatriated Chinese students and researchers, and state-sponsored industrial and technical espionage to increase the level of technologies and expertise available to support military research, development, and acquisition," the report said.

Earlier this year, after The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal accused hackers in China of perpetrating months-long network breaches at the newspapers, a handful of companies revealed that they too had been victims of recent hackings, including Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft. A study released by Team Cymru in February said that overseas hackers are stealing as much as one terabyte of data per day from governments, businesses, militaries, and academic facilities.

"This is Internet theft on an industrial level," Team Cymru director Steve Santorelli said at the time.

The slew of cyberattacks have caught the attention of U.S. lawmakers and in March the Obama administration demanded that China end its "unprecedented" campaign of cyberespionage, warning that the hacking activity threatens to derail efforts to build stronger ties between the two countries. The Chinese government has flatly denied that it is involved in cyberspying or hacking.

The senators backing "Deter Cyber Theft Act" seem to hope that the law could be a strong barrier in curbing the ongoing attacks.

"We need to call out those who are responsible for cyber theft and empower the president to hit the thieves where it hurts most -- in their wallets, by blocking imports of products or from companies that benefit from this theft," Levin said in a statement, according to Reuters.

If passed, the law would require an annual report to list the countries involved in cyberespionage, along with highlighting the worst offenders, according to Reuters. The report would also detail what kind of data the cybercriminals were stealing. These lists could lead to the president blocking imports of certain products or imports from specific countries.