Russian/Chinese cyber-security pact raises concerns

News by Tim Ring

News that Russia and China are set to sign a cyber-security treaty next month have left Western cyber experts unsure whether it is a threat or a promising development.

According to the RT (Russia Today) website and Russian newspaper Kommersant, sources close to the Kremlin say the “two-sided agreement on cooperation in the field of information security” will be signed on November 10 during a state visit to China by Russian premier Vladimir Putin.

The treaty will enable Russia and China to conduct joint cyber-security operations and develop joint information security projects.

The draft pact also states the two countries oppose the use of technology “to meddle in the internal affairs of independent states, to undermine national sovereignty as well as political, economic and social stability and public order”, Kommersant reports.

Putin and Chinese premier Xi Jinping are expected to deliver a joint address on cyber-security during the visit.

The news comes at a time when cyber security relations between China and the US are at an all-time low, with the West increasingly complaining about Chinese state cyber-attacks on Western targets.

This even led to five Chinese army officers being put on the FBI's ‘Most Wanted' list in May for alleged cyber-espionage.

But industry experts are unsure whether the expected treaty is a new threat to the West or a positive step.

Information security researcher and author, David Lacey, told “Certainly if two very sophisticated countries got together to attack then it'd be very dangerous. If they got together to help defend each other, then that's a different game altogether, that would be very sensible.”

However, Lacey questioned the public nature of the declaration: “It's good to see people talking together but one is always suspicious about public statements. Why do they need to publicise it – is it a threat? Is it reassurance? Public pronouncements like this are probably for presentation purposes. It's very hard to know how much of this is real.”

He added: “It just illustrates the fact that anything can happen in this space. Certainly with this agreement there will be a new landscape emerging.”

Cyber-security consultant and blogger Brian Honan saw more positive possibilities. He told “I think it's a quite interesting and quite welcome move as well. The more cooperation we see between countries in developing and improving cyber-security the better.

“Even though traditionally in the West, Russia and China may not be viewed in the most favourable light, they themselves have precious assets they want to protect from cyber-attack.”

Honan added: “It's hard to know without more detail whether it's a political stunt or whether there's anything genuine behind it. I suppose we'll only see that over time. But hopefully criminals within those two jurisdictions will be more readily identified and brought to justice.

“For me it's good to see these countries recognising they can't fight this alone, they need to work with others and work together to deal with the threat of cyber crime.

“Hopefully that will expand to working with other countries as well: the first baby steps maybe in developing greater co-operation.”

But Honan emphasised he did not see the pact hitting Russian or Chinese cyber-criminals who specifically target the West, nor their cyber-spies.

“Nation states are still going to spy,” he said, “and I don't think agreement between anybody, like between Germany and the US, is going to stop that. All the treaties in the world won't stop that happening between any different countries.”

Meanwhile John Walker, visiting professor with the Science and Technology School at Nottingham-Trent University, felt the treaty spells danger.

He told  via email: “Call me a sceptic, but if I had a Russian or Chinese salesman come to my door offering this policy, would I buy it?

“This suggested relationship does not do much to make me feel more secure – on the contrary, when one sees two of the most acknowledged and hostile players in the game of cyber-aggression joining forces, it does very little to eradicate concerns, as the power of two is much greater of course than ‘one'.

“Given we are dealing here with countries who have been masters in the art of disinformation do I really believe this - or is it yet another tool in the armoury of the cyber-counter-intelligence?”

* A more local co-operation pact in the West has seen Kaspersky Lab and European law enforcement agency Europol expand their existing joint activity in combatting cyber crime.

During the last two weeks, around 30 staff from Kaspersky have visited Europol to share their know-how in cyber-security awareness, cyber-forensics and malware analysis with staff from its European Cybercrime Centre (EC3).

Kaspersky Lab chairman and CEO Eugene Kaspersky said: "Such public-private co-operation is vital for improving security in cyber-space."


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