US President Barack Obama vowed to aggressively boost US cyber defences citing its vulnerability to hackers, but stopped short of blaming China publicly for a recent cyber attack which threatens to worsen tensions over cybersecurity between the two countries.
"We have to be as nimble, as aggressive and as well-resourced as those who are trying to break into these systems," Obama told a news conference at the Group of Seven (G7) summit in Germany.
“We haven’t publicly unveiled who we think may have engaged in these cyberattacks. This problem is not going to go away. It is going to accelerate.”
His statement came ahead of scheduled talks between the US and China in Washington later this month, despite allegations that the hack of millions of US government personnel files may have originated in China.
Hackers working for the Chinese state breached the computer systems of the Office of Personnel Management and possibly compromised the records of four million current and former federal employees in one of the biggest known attacks on US federal networks, according to US officials.
US investigators looking into the incident, which was revealed on Thursday, have uncovered digital signatures left by the hackers that show it was likely an official Chinese government operation despite China’s denial, two US officials said on Monday.
In early May, a new Pentagon cybersecurity strategy laid out for the first time publicly showed that the US military plans to use cyber-warfare as an option in conflicts with its enemies, which outraged China.
China is frequently accused by the US of engaging in widespread hacking attacks.
The 33-page strategy says the Defense Department “should be able to use cyber operations to disrupt an adversary's command and control networks, military-related critical infrastructure and weapons capabilities.”
Obama declined to say in Germany on Monday whether he believed China was behind the latest cyber attack - the second major intrusion of the same agency by China in less than a year - saying the US has old computer systems with “significant vulnerabilities.”
In his first public comments on the attack, Obama blamed the US Congress for not approving cyber-security legislation that the White House sent to lawmakers in January.
“This is why it’s so important that Congress moves forward on passing cyber security legislation that we’ve been pushing for,” he said.