G20 nations reach anti-hacking pledge

Twenty nations, including China, have agreed to neither conduct nor support the online theft of intellectual property and trade secrets.

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In a sweeping set of common agreements reached during a two-day summit in Antalya, Turkey, Group of 20 (G-20) leaders pledged affirmation that “states have a special responsibility to promote security, stability, and economic ties with other nations” in the digital realm.

The agreement mirrors a similar pact struck by the United States and China in September and another between China and the U.K. reached last month.

The U.S. has tried to draw a line in the sand between hacking for commercial gain and hacking for traditional intelligence-gathering purposes, seeking to create an international norm.

“[We] commit ourselves to the view that all states should abide by norms of responsible state behaviour in the use of [information and communications technologies],” G-20 leaders said in a communiqué detailing the summit.

Anti-hacking pledges have come in response to what companies from many countries have characterized as an onslaught of network intrusions, both by cyber criminals and nation-state actors.

China is seen globally as one of the worst offenders. Many U.S. firms have accused Beijing of pilfering trade secrets to bolster its domestic companies.

The September agreement is seen as significant because it marks the first time that China has drawn a distinction between hacking for traditional intelligence-gathering purposes and hacking for commercial gain.

The G20 agreement comes as the United States continues to monitor Beijing’s digital behavior, looking for signs that it will uphold its end of the bargain. Some security researchers say they have seen evidence that China has already broken the agreement.

Lawmakers and others have expressed concern that without an effective enforcement mechanism, the pact will do little to stem the hacks from Beijing.

The White House has not laid aside the possibility of sanctioning Chinese companies that benefit from corporate espionage, but policy experts have said the administration will likely give Beijing some time to unwind its extensive espionage network.

“What I’ve said to [Chinese President Xi Jinping] and what I say to the American people, the question now is: Are words followed by actions?” President Obama said when the agreement was announced. “We will be watching carefully to make an assessment as to whether progress has been made in this area.”