White House unveils cyber pact with Japan

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The U.S. and Japan unveiled a wide-ranging cybersecurity alliance Tuesday morning, a step toward the White House's goal of creating international cyber norms amid growing hacking threats from China and North Korea.

The pact came after a daylong Monday meeting between President Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is in Washington on a weeklong visit.

The two countries agreed to swap more data on cyber threats and the state-sponsored digital theft of intellectual property — a practice commonly tied to China. The pair will also work to delineate “peacetime cyber norms” and present a united cyber front at international organizations, such as the United Nations General Assembly.

“The United States and Japan are building a partnership that addresses global challenges,” the White House and Japan said in a joint statement.

Part of that “broad agenda” includes ensuring “the safe and stable use of cyberspace based on the free flow of information and an open Internet,” the two countries said.

The U.S. has struggled to hold foreign governments accountable for suspected cyberattacks on both the U.S. commercial sector and federal agencies.

Without strong, internationally negotiated rules governing state-sponsored hacking, the White House has been hesitant to take retaliatory action against — let alone blame — other countries for cyberattacks.

It’s widely assumed that Beijing-backed digital warriors are behind intrusions at several major U.S. health insurers, large military contractors, the U.S. Postal Service and the federal weather system.

But the only major public step the administration has taken was to indict five Chinese military members last year for hacking — a largely symbolic measure.

President Obama did recently sign an executive order giving the Treasury Department more authority to impose economic sanctions on governments as punishment for cyberattacks.

But Tuesday’s agreement gives the White House an Asian ally to help put additional cyber pressure on China and North Korea, another cyber irritant in the region that reportedly took down Japan-owned Sony Pictures Entertainment in a massive digital hit last fall.

The strengthened partnership comes one day after Secretary of State John KerryJohn KerryWhat would a Hillary Clinton presidency look like? 5 reasons Trump's final debate performance sealed his 2016 coffin US pledges to do all it can to fight 'grave threat' of nuclear North Korea MORE and Defense Secretary Ashton Carter released updated guidelines for U.S.-Japan military cooperation.

The revised rules would allow Tokyo to participate in more international security initiatives, including those in cyberspace. Specifically, the two countries vowed to cooperate on helping each other bolster cyber defenses for critical infrastructure.

U.S. officials have publicly acknowledged that several countries — including Asian power China — are sitting on the United States' critical networks, collecting data and possibly waiting to attack.

Cybersecurity “has become a common security issue for both nations,” Japanese Minister of Defense Gen Nakatani said at a joint press conference with Carter earlier this month.

On Tuesday, the U.S. and Japan said cyber threats are an unprecedented threat to international security.

“Today the international order faces fresh challenges, ranging from violent extremism to cyberattacks,” they said. “State actions that undermine respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity by attempting to unilaterally change the status quo by force or coercion pose challenges to the international order.”