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2015 U.S.-China Cyber Agreement: A New Hope, Or the Empire Strikes Back

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Technical Report

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Naval Postgraduate School Monterey United States

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On September 25, 2015, President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping announced the formation of a U.S.China Cyber Agreement. After years of suspected cyber-enabled economic espionage, many analysts considered the Agreement a surprising and welcome development. Still, other analysts remained pessimistic as to the Agreements potential impact in changing behavior, predicting Chinese behavior would remain unchanged or be altered in a way that would not significantly reduce the level of cyber espionage instances or damages. Given the two years since the signing of Agreement, this thesis examines data from pre and post-Agreement periods for potential trends and impacts, to address the question, How have the results of the 2015 U.S.China Cyber Agreement impacted the prospects of future U.S.China cooperation in cyberspace To evaluate this question, this thesis first examines data from FireEye, Hackmageddon, and other cybersecurity organizations, which report the volume of attacks and other relevant trends. This thesis then repurposes the Schmitt Analysis to provide an alternative and more comprehensive perspective of Chinas compliance with the Agreement. Last, this thesis surveys Chinese policies from the pre- and post-Agreement periods, highlighting notable differences. After examination of the data, this thesis finds that the Agreement, though likely not a watershed moment, played a significant role in accelerating Chinese behavior toward a reduction in the level of attacks. Data from FireEye, Hackmageddon, and other cybersecurity organizations suggests a genuine effort on the part of the Chinese to comply with the Agreement. Additionally, data examined by repurposing the Schmitt Analysis supports similar findings. Furthermore, Chinese policies appear to have shifted following the Agreement, toward a cyber posture more consistent with U.S. aspirations. In sum, the Agreement plays a significant role toward fostering more friendly U.S.China cyber relations.

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  • Government and Political Science
  • Computer Systems Management and Standards

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