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U.S., China Team To Fight Spam

Rare alliance a "stepping stone" to addressing other cybersecurity issues between the nations, officials say
In a historic alliance, groups in the U.S. and China are now working together on fighting cybercrime -- initially on reducing spam between the two countries, but that could be just the beginning, according to an official who helped broker the initiative.

Karl Frederick Rauscher, CTO of think tank EastWest Institute, who led the bilateral arrangement along with Yonglin Zhou, director of the network security committee of the Internet Society of China, announced the relationship yesterday at the Messaging Anti-Abuse Working Group (MAAWG) meeting in Orlando. The first fruits of the new relationship between the two cyberpowers will be a joint report titled "Fighting Spam to Build Trust," which will publish next month.

"This work on spam is beginning a first installment of a larger initiative between the two countries in this arena," Rauscher says. "Because of the obvious distrust between these two countries, we need to start a dialog in the area where there was clear mutual intent and we see significant value: Spam was picked for that reason as an area where we could make progress. It will be a stepping stone to more significant and even greater topics that impact both countries' interests."

While the think tank considers this a first step in talks between the two nations on cybercrime issues, moving beyond anti-spam efforts could be a tall order. Chinese hackers have been implicated in so-called targeted, advanced persistent threat (APT)-type attacks against U.S. government agencies for years, and, most recently, against U.S. businesses such as Google, Intel, Adobe, and others. These targeted attacks are all about espionage and stealing intellectual property, and traditionally have been stealthy and prolonged, where the attackers remain inside the victim organization for long periods of time and use "low and slow" tactics to evade detection.

Either way, the relationship is unprecedented for the two nations. "We should feel good about the progress made here. No one is nave about the relative concerns both countries have," Rauscher says. "We are optimistic that the right follow-up will take place, either by the private sector of the government."

The goals are to open dialog, foster a deeper understanding of one another, and to develop consensus guidance for reducing spam. The upcoming report will include best practices for spam reduction, including differentiating between spam and legitimate email, educating consumers about botnets, and encouraging ISPs to use feedback loops to help stop spam.

Michael O'Reirdan, chairman of MAAWG, says the EastWest Institute's reach is instrumental in brokering the relationship. "One of the advantages of the institute is they are able to reach out to our [ISP] counterparts in China that up until now were difficult to access," O'Reirdan says. "And by suppressing spam from China and the U.S., everyone is going to benefit. It will contribute to the overall reduction of spam."

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