Panetta talks computer hacking with Chinese

BEIJING (AP) — Despite several years of escalating diplomacy and warnings, the U.S. is making little headway in its efforts to tamp down aggressive Chinese cyberattacks against American companies and the government.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who is wrapping up three days of meetings with military and civilian leaders, said he has brought the issue up at every session and come away with little more than agreements to talk again.

Meanwhile, cybersecurity analysts say the computer-based attacks emanating from China continue unabated, and in fact are expanding and focusing more intently on critical American oil, gas and other energy companies.

“No diplomatic actions have made a difference,” said Richard Bejtlich, chief security officer for the Virginia-based cybersecurity firm Mandiant. “They remain aggressive — they’re kicked out one day and try to get back in the next day.”

He said the China-backed hackers’ tactics are also evolving, and they are more often going after corporate computer systems by breaching software weaknesses, rather than simply trying to get into a network by duping an individual employee. And he said they appear to be increasingly targeting lucrative energy companies.

Panetta, who is leaving China on Thursday, met with China’s leader-in-waiting, Xi Jinping, Wednesday and afterward told reporters he urged Xi and other leaders to have an ongoing dialogue with the United States about the cyber threat.

“I think it’s clear that they want to engage in a dialogue on this issue,” Panetta said, “and I guess that’s the most important thing. That’s the beginning of trying to perhaps be able to develop an approach to dealing with cyber issues that has some semblance of order here as opposed to having countries basically all flying in the dark.”

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