White House demands China stop hacking into US companies

Tom Donilon, the president's national security adviser, urged China on Monday to stop hackers from breaking into U.S. computer systems and stealing business secrets.

"The international community cannot afford to tolerate such activity from any country," Donilon said in a speech in New York.

The comments are the administration's most direct response yet to Chinese cyber spying.

Donilon said that U.S. officials have urged China to recognize the "urgency and scope" of the problem and to take "serious steps" to stop the hackers. He said the Chinese government should engage in a dialogue to establish acceptable rules of behavior in cyberspace. 

"From the President on down, this has become a key point of concern and discussion with China at all levels of our governments," Donilon said.

He said cybersecurity is becoming a "growing challenge" to the economic relationship between the United States and China.

Donilon did not directly accuse the Chinese government of launching the attacks on U.S. computer systems, only noting that the attacks are coming from inside the country.

"Increasingly, U.S. businesses are speaking out about their serious concerns about sophisticated, targeted theft of confidential business information and proprietary technologies through cyber intrusions emanating from China on an unprecedented scale," he said.

China has denied that it is responsible for the attacks.  

Last month, the White House unveiled a strategy aimed at fighting the theft of trade secrets. Among other steps, the administration said it would use "trade policy tools" to pressure other countries to stop hacking U.S. companies and to enforce intellectual property laws.

Just one day before the administration announced the policy shift, the security firm Mandiant released a report detailing evidence that an elite military unit of Chinese hackers, the People's Liberation Army Unit 61398, has been continuously hacking U.S. companies and government agencies.

The analysts wrote that since 2006, the Shanghai-based hackers have stolen data from at least 141 companies across 20 major industries, including critical infrastructure sectors like energy and telecommunications. At least 115 of the companies were in the United States.