U.S., China pledge cooperation on cyberwar

The countries say they want to ensure that a "crisis" doesn't develop between them in the event important servers are accessed.

Don Reisinger
Don Reisinger

Former CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.

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China and the U.S. are facing guerrilla cyberwar and must work to avoid crises between the two countries, their top defense officials said yesterday after meeting in Washington.

"Because the United States and China have developed the technological capabilities in this arena, it's extremely important that we work together to develop ways to avoid any miscalculation or misperception that could lead to a crisis in this area," U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said at a joint press conference with Chinese Minister of National Defense Gen. Liang Guanglie.

It's no secret that the U.S. and China are waging a clandestine cyberwar against each other. In fact, just last month, a U.S. House of Representatives hearing made it abundantly clear that war is being waged -- and that China might be the country's biggest foe.

"There are no shells exploding or foreign militaries on our shores. But make no mistake: America is under attack by digital bombs," U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) said during a hearing of the House subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations, and Management. McCaul went on to say that "China's cyber warfare capabilities and the espionage campaigns they have undertaken are the most prevalent of any nation state actor."

According to a U.S. government transcript of the press conference, Liang dismissed such claims, saying yesterday that he didn't "agree with the proposition that the cyberattacks directed to the United States are directly coming from China."

Security experts and military leaders in the U.S., however, see it differently. Back in March, National Security Agency director Gen. Keith Alexander said that China is stealing a "great deal" of the U.S. military's intellectual property and has targeted "defense industrial base companies."

For its part, China has criticized the U.S. from time to time, saying last year that it needs to be more proactive in its defense.

"The U.S. military is hastening to seize the commanding military heights on the Internet, and another Internet war is being pushed to a stormy peak," the Chinese military wrote in its official newspaper, Liberation Army Daily, last year. "Their actions remind us that to protect the nation's Internet security, we must accelerate Internet defense development and accelerate steps to make a strong Internet army."

Updated throughout at 9:20 a.m PT.