Biden administration debating whether and how to sanction China for ransomware attacks
20 Jul 2021

The Biden administration has been debating internally whether and how to impose sanctions on China for its malfeasance in cyberspace, according to people familiar with the matter, as experts question why the White House has not gone further in penalizing China for its alleged hack of Microsoft’s email system in the spring.

The Biden administration and a coalition of international allies accused China on Monday of using “criminal contract hackers” to carry out malicious activities around the world — but stopped short of penalizing Beijing with sanctions or diplomatic expulsions, in stark contrast to how the administration has responded to similar malign behavior by Russia in the past several months.

When the administration in April attributed the massive SolarWinds espionage campaign to Russia’s intelligence services, they simultaneously announced sweeping sanctions on Russian financial and technology companies and expelled 10 diplomats from the Russian embassy in Washington. But the administration took no such punitive action against China on Monday when it accused the Chinese Ministry of State Security of facilitating a massive hack of Microsoft’s email system and other ransomware attacks around the world.

The disparity prompted questions from cybersecurity experts — including to the White House directly on Monday morning, according to a person familiar with the outreach — as to why they seemed to have pulled their punches with Beijing in a way they hadn’t with Moscow.

“I do think the lack of sanctions is a problem,” said Adam Segal, an expert on cybersecurity and China at the Council on Foreign Relations. “The Chinese are not going to take a stern warning and suddenly for some reason change their behavior.”

The response so far, much to the chagrin of some more hawkish officials and experts, has been to just be patient.

By Natasha Bertrand, Kevin Liptak and Brian Fung, CNN, 20 July 2021

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