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Russia - China Put Up United Front Against US With Cyber Treaty

Experts say China and Russia's agreement not to "hack" each other is really political posturing designed to show a "united front" against the United States' new cybersecurity strategy.

This post first appeared on Russia Insider

Last Friday, China and Russia inked a deal that saw the two nations agree not to hack or launch cyberattacks against one another, as part of a wider agreement that's designed to pave the way for cooperation in the areas of information technology and law enforcement.

The agreement is a telling sign of Russia's shift to embrace China in the wake of its bumpy relations with the West, which have cooled significantly since the start of the crisis in Ukraine. Nevertheless, most experts agree that neither Russia nor China has any intention of ceasing to engage in cyber-spying on the other - rather, the deal is instead a political one, aimed at sending a message to the U.S. and its European allies, though the experts disagree on exactly what message that is, and what it could mean for the U.S.

As part of the deal, China and Russia also agreed to share information between their law enforcement agencies, to cooperate in the exchange of technology, and to work together to "counteract technology that may 'destabilize the internal political and socio-economic atmosphere,' 'disturb public order' or 'interfere with the internal affairs of the state,'" as the Wall Street Journal reported.

One view is that the agreement is a natural progression of China and Russia's close economic and military relationship that was established with Shanghai Cooperation Organization in 2001. Tom Kellerman, chief cybersecurity officer of Trend Micro, told Dark Reading there are two reasons why the announcement is happening now. Firstly, it is a reaction to the U.S.'s more aggresive cybersecurity strategy, and secondly, it's a reaction to the U.S.'s attempt to get Japan to change its pacifist constitution to allow its military to engage in overseas combat operations.

The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) revealed details of its revised cybersecurity strategy just last month, saying that Russian hackers had managed to infiltrate an unclassified DoD network. Kellerman argues that the China - Russia pact could therefore be a way for the two countries to present a united front against the U.S.

"Oh, Mr. Secretary of Defense, you're taking the gloves off? Well, there's two of us. Now what?" Kellerman said.

Other experts suggest the deal could be more about Russia wanting to bolster its stance on Internet governance. Most Western governments believe the Internet should essentially be ungoverned, whereas Russia and China have long sought greater controls over what their citizens can and cannot access online.  

"The Russians have tried to shape how the Chinese think about these issues," said James Lewis, senior fellow and program director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "The Chinese just went along with it because anything the U.S. disagrees with can't be all bad."

The good news (for the U.S. at least) is that China and Russia are unlikely to go and share their most advanced tricks of the trade when it comes to carrying out cyberattacks on foreign nations.

Richard Bejtlich, a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institute, told Dark Reading that the two nations might share some low-level tricks as a way of fostering goodwill, but says they're unlikely to share anything that could significantly bolster the other's offensive capabilities.

"I think they're trying to push the norm of not going to attack each other's critical infrastructure," Bejtlich said.


Image credit: Mark Turner via

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