Senators want sanctions against countries supporting cyberattacks

Possible sanctions could include immigration and trade limits with countries accused of harboring cyberattackers, lawmakers say

Two U.S. senators will push Congress or President Barack Obama's administration to pursue trade and immigration sanctions against China and other countries that allegedly support cyberattacks on U.S. government agencies and businesses, the lawmakers said Wednesday.

Senators Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat, and Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, called on the administration, including the U.S. Department of Justice and Federal Bureau of Investigation, to step up efforts to battle cyberattacks.

Congress or the administration should block immigration from countries supporting cyberattacks on the U.S. and it should limit trading with those countries, Graham said during a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee's crime subcommittee.

"Our Chinese friends seem to be hell bent on stealing anything they can get their hands on here in America," Graham said. "We're going to do something about this. We're going to put nation states on notice that, if you continue to do this, you'll pay a price."

Witnesses pointed at China as the major source of cyberattacks on the U.S.

Graham asked witnesses to identify the top countries where attacks originate. Both Kevin Mandia, CEO of security vendor Mandiant, and Stewart Baker, a partner at law firm Steptoe & Johnson and former assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said China was by far the top attacker.

Russian attackers seem to abide by some rules of engagement and tend to withdraw after U.S. security professionals catch them attacking networks, Mandia said. "The Chinese are like a tank through a corn field, they just keep mowing through it," he said.

Graham asked Mandia and Baker for two-page memos detailing Chinese attacks that he would take to officials with the Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C. "I'll give you 100 pages, sir," Mandia said.

Representatives of the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C., didn't immediately respond to a request for comments on the hearing.

Whitehouse also called on the DOJ and FBI to be more aggressive in their pursuit of cybercriminals. "It is all well and good to complain about [intellectual property] thefts through diplomatic channels, but at some point, you need to stop complaining and start indicting," he said.

Representatives of the DOJ and FBI said they've worked hard on cybercrime and brought several cases in recent years. Law enforcement's ability to investigate and prosecute cybercrime has improved dramatically in recent years, they said.

Graham questioned if Congress was giving the agencies enough resources to fight cybercrime. Federal law enforcement agencies have significant resources to fight bank robberies and other physical crimes, but the resources to fight cybercrime haven't caught up with the problem, he said.

Cheri McGuire, vice president of global government affairs and cybersecurity policy at security vendor Symantec, agreed. "We are not putting enough resources against this today," she said. "We've got a long way to go to catch up."

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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Tags U.S. Federal Bureau of InvestigationKevin MandiaregulationSheldon WhitehouseU.S. Department of Homeland SecurityU.S. Senate Judiciary CommitteelegislationMandiantBarack ObamaStewart BakerLindsey GrahamCheri McGuiresymantecSteptoe & JohnsonsecuritygovernmentU.S. Department of Justice

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Grant Gross

IDG News Service
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