In yet another sign that the world is changing dramatically, President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping met this past weekend at the White House, where the two dined and discussed, of all things, cybercrime.
In this new age of technology, international criminal activity and corporate espionage are incredibly easy to pull off, and citizens of one country can easily commit crime in another.
As the world becomes more and more reliant on technology, we are capable of increasingly impressive and useful exploits, but are equally more vulnerable to the malignant efforts of criminals, even those hundreds or thousands of miles away.
One of the largest targets of foreign criminals are the major corporations and economic drivers of a country.
Sometimes, these attacks serve the interests of the country in which these criminals reside.
In this case, it’s actually beneficial for the host government to ignore, or even encourage, cybercrime against rival nations.
Although China has never admitted to as much, many Western nations suspect China is guilty of such tactics.
The many and varied attacks on U.S., British, German, and Japanese companies lends credence to the idea that China either ignores or encourages such acts. It is, for obvious reasons, quite unacceptable.
The United States is not innocent of such things either, though there are significantly fewer of them.
Besides stricter hacking laws, the U.S. is home to most technology companies, and so high reward targets for independent hackers tend to be based in America anyway.
As cybercrime capabilities have been escalating, and in the shadow of increasing potential for international cyber warfare, U.S. and Chinese leaders have been discussing a set of digital guidelines, which they hope will impose some amount of international law on the largely lawless digital world.
Since bans on spying, national espionage, and direct warfare are largely off the table, given both sides have vested interest in preserving those capabilities, cybercrime has taken center stage.
Speaking at a press conference last Friday, President Obama stood beside Xi Jinping and announced that the two had come to an understanding of what kind of behavior is acceptable.
Both pledged to do their best to prevent cybercrime against non-government actors. What was explicitly left undiscussed, was method of cyber espionage or warfare, which will require a great deal of further scrutiny before any treaty could be drafted.
Specifically, Obama said that the countries had agreed to prevent “cyber-enabled theft of intellectual property.”
He indicated to the Chinese president that such actions “had to stop,” and that if they continue, the United States will pursue other actions, specifically sanctions, to curb the threat.
This meeting signals a new era, one in which treaties will be hammered out over concern for a new type of warfare: cyber warfare.
U.N. committees have already begun looking into what might constitute a cyber treaty. But opinions are divided, with countries looking to maintain their abilities to digitally surveil their enemies, while curtailing the surveillance levied against them.
The good news is that the international community is already talking about the possible ramifications of a true cyber war, well ahead of one actually happening.
Finally, it seems that we’re looking into the future and preventing the use of potentially disastrous weapons, without the need for a demonstration.
Whether we will end up successful in allieviating any potential disasters before one happens remains to be seen, but hope lingers.