In the new age and era of the internet, a new virtual reality threat has emerged, cyber warfare. A cyberattack on the infrastructure of any given country, financially, can be as damaging as a physical attack if not even more, according to Dr.Martin C. Libicki a Senior Scientist at RAND Corporation. More and more countries have reached this conclusion with countless small cyber attacks on their national infrastructures or private companies. Just like a pact between two countries declaring that they will not take military action against one another, a cyber agreement between the two greatest powers has been signed in 2015.
Former President Obama and top representatives from his administration have met with the Chinese government and signed “The U.S. — China Cyber Agreement”. The agreement has been signed after the USA’s economy fell victim to cyber-attacks, mostly on private sectors, that caused serious financial losses. However, this agreement has raised a lot of doubt within the cyber-security community. The doubt mainly originates from the distrust the community has of the Chinese government with a strong history of previous cyberattacks. The second element in this problem is the fact that this agreement will not affect the existing threat from a cyber attack on the USA or China as well. In essence, the agreement has yet to prove itself. Almost six years after it has been signed, Both the US and China continue to experience cyber-attacks. The USA in particular, with countless speculations that the attacks are coming out of Russia but with no concrete supportive evidence that the attacks are not coming from China.
One interesting and somewhat positive, yet not too effective, result that the agreement brought to light is China’s actions that came after signing the agreement. Soon after, China has formed similar agreements with states such as the UK, Brazil, and Russia. In retrospect, we might look at this “cyber coalition” as a great diplomatic gesture but not necessarily being true to the core principles that the agreement consists of. The agreement does have a positive result when it comes to cybercrime. The increase in cooperation between China’s and US law agencies has led to many arrests of international fraud cells and other cyber-related criminals. But this success still provides no guarantee that the USA or China are protected from a state cyber attack. Those types of attacks tend to be a lot more sophisticated, due to the resources for the research and development process of a specific cyberattack method. A lot of the cyber attacks that hit state agencies are often harmless to the system and don’t involve any sort of damage to data. It mostly hurts the integrity of the data becoming a cyber-espionage, therefore, falling into the definition of cyber warfare by a state on a state level.
From a different outlook on this situation, one can argue that the agreement between two nations states that the attacks will not hurt the private sector of one another but is not mentioning spying in it. In theory, cyber espionage is categorized under regular espionage and there is no agreement between the two giant political players against espionage. In response to such events, the US government has conducted strong reforms and upgrades of cybersecurity systems in all branches of its Military. With many experts giving a prognosis that the infrastructure systems in the USA are viewed as a second vulnerable point and a similar upgrade campaign will be performed by the government. Such reforms result in the great financial success of many cybersecurity firms as the US government recruits their help with a financial reward and more credibility to the firm and its capabilities. The idea of the US government as a client of the private sector shows the lack of proper funding to develop a cybersecurity system. The US government itself has been focusing mainly on financing such agencies as NSA for espionage and neglecting the fact that major networked base systems are open to attacks.
To conclude, “The U.S.-China Cyber Agreement” has become a symbol of the new word that we have created in the past 20–25 years. A world where everything is stored online, where everyone with an internet connection is at risk of being a victim or a casualty. The fantasy of yesterday is tomorrow’s reality and the reality is that the next major war will not be fought on battlefields, it will be fought online.