How the U.S. indictment of Chinese hackers affects internet freedom
The United States Department of Justice formally indicted five Chinese computer hackers who used a technique called spear phishing to compromise information in the steel and nuclear power plant industries this past week, and the backlash has already begun to form. At a press conference earlier in the week, the Obama administration made their stance on the matter extremely firm, the Washington Post reported.
Though specifics continue to emerge, the Post confirmed that Pittsburgh companies like Steel Union and Alcoa had information breached from beneath their noses when hackers sent the companies emails that appeared to be from internal superiors. The e-mails redirected users to an unfamiliar websites where some unknowingly entered their usernames and passwords into a separate form, giving the hackers access to much internal information as well as blueprints to America nuclear power plants.
Following the cyberspying charges being formally filed, Washington Post blogger Adam Taylor speculated that this conflict will only grow due to existing friction between the countries, some of which are a direct result of Edward Snowden's exposure of the National Security Agency's data in 2013. The Chinese government believes that the U.S. allegations are baseless, expanded upon in an op-ed in the Global Times.
"China is a victim of severe US cyber theft, wiretapping and surveillance activities," the statement read. "Large amounts of publicly disclosed information show that relevant US institutions have been conducting cyber intrusion, wiretapping and surveillance activities against Chinese government departments, institutions, companies, universities and individuals."
That is, even if the Chinese did compromise information from the American steel and nuclear industries, it comes nowhere close to the allegations of espionage that the U.S. National Security Agency denies over a year after the Snowden scandal began.
What this means for internet freedom
This case may prove to be an argument against net neutrality in the coming weeks, though ramifications may depend on how the discourse between the Department of Justice and the Chinese government proceeds. Snowden advocates support net neutrality, but the information exposed about the NSA may end up costing the country in grudges and further hacking from China, Turkey and other countries with far more restrictions on their internet freedom.
Extreme internet censorship continues to be a pressing issue in China, as demonstrated by recent conflicts like their internet providers being submissive to the government and criticisms of the Chinese government regularly being removed from the web. However, a recent Mashable article makes an argument that friction like this is a reason that overriding net neutrality may be positive for the U.S. Reasons cited include the effectiveness of low regulation on the internet until now, standardizing prices as an impractical and illogical solution and that implementing net neutrality would, ultimately, give the government more power over the internet.
"If net neutrality went into effect, then the government would have to monitor the telecoms' and cable companies' broadband connections," Mashable writer Todd Wasserman explained.
The Snowden scandal of 2013 opened a lot of issues, positive and negative, for advocates of internet freedom. The transparency forced upon the American government was eye-opening for a vastly uninformed populace and affected how most view cybersecurity and the level of access the government and other major web services have to personal information. Conversely, this news reached countries like China, Turkey and Russia, and seemed to inspire them to limit the access their people have to internet in the interest of preventing a similar scandal.
The state of the internet is still unclear as it provokes controversy domestically and abroad, and the outcome of the allegations between the U.S. Department of Justice and the Chinese hackers will present a whole new perspective for attitudes toward cybersecurity.