US seeks stronger cyber ties with North American neighbors

US seeks stronger cyber ties with North American neighbors

After firming up its cybersecurity relations with a number of overseas allies, the Obama administration is turning its attention to its North American neighbors this week.

Starting Wednesday, State Department officials will attend a three-day summit to strengthen cyber ties with the U.S.'s northern and southern neighbors, Canada and Mexico.

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Christopher Painter, the department’s coordinator for cyber issues, is travelling to Ottawa, Canada, to participate in the talks.

“This will be the first trilateral consultation on cyber policy among U.S., Canadian and Mexican cyber foreign policy experts, and is part of a broader effort to address cyber policy under the North American Leaders Summit," the State Department said.

The North American Leaders Summit is a mostly annual gathering of the heads of U.S., Canada and Mexico that first took place in 2005.

In recent months, the White House has inked a number of cyber pacts with foreign allies, such as Japan, South Korea and the Persian Gulf states.

Some were stand-alone cyber deals, others part of broader security agreements. But all pledged to exchange more data on hacking threats, swap military cyber tactics and work on creating international norms for cyberspace operations.

The pacts also had regional strategic elements.

China is perhaps the biggest cyber adversary to the U.S., driving the administration to seek stronger ties with the Asian power’s neighbors. North Korea is also a persistent irritant, which played a role in the deal with South Korea.

Officials also warn of the growing cyber threat posed by Iran and Islamist extremists. Those fears drove the pact with the Gulf states.

Similar cyber threats don’t necessarily exist from America’s North American neighbors, but Canada and Mexico could aid the U.S. in its efforts to establish international cyber rules.

The recent massive data breach that has potentially exposed up to 14 million people’s sensitive information has only highlighted the dearth of global rules, as the White House weighs how to respond to the suspected China-backed hack.

“Since we don’t have any international rules of the road, so to speak, about what an appropriate reaction and sanctions should be, that’s a challenge when you’re dealing with international criminal activity,” said Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.), co-chair of the Congressional Cybersecurity Caucus.