Cyber Enemy No. 1

Article excerpt

It's a good bet that the powers that be in Beijing aren't eager for April 23 to arrive.

That's the release date for a book by Eric Schmidt, Google's executive chairman and former CEO, and Jared Cohen, a Council on Foreign Relations adjunct senior fellow who directs the Google Ideas think tank and sits on a National Counterterrorism Center advisory board. Called "The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business" (Knopf), its harsh assessment of China is already generating buzz.

A Feb. 1 post on The Wall Street Journal's Corporate Intelligence blog by Tom Gara offers a sneak peek at the book, based on "preliminary galleys." He says it picks up where "The Digital Disruption," a long November 2010 essay by Schmidt and Cohen that foresaw camera-equipped smartphones' role in Arab Spring uprisings, left off.

According to Gara, Schmidt and Cohen's book labels China as "'the world's most active and enthusiastic filterer of information' as well as 'the most sophisticated and prolific' hacker of foreign companies." And China's willingness "to use cyber crime gives the country an economic and political edge, they say."

Gara writes that the Google duo foresees a growing divide "between states that support freedom online and those that suppress it," which could lead to a fractured Internet, with states of each type controlling different parts. Companies doing business with suppressive states could be shunned, and Western tech vendors could draw closer to their own governments to avert what Schmidt and Cohen call "the abuse of their products by an authoritarian state."

It's an indictment of China as hostile to U.S. and Western interests that carries additional weight because of who's making it. Yet ironies abound.

One is that Beijing might have known Gara's blog post was coming. The Journal is among U.S. media outlets that in recent weeks have said publicly that Chinese hackers -- apparently targeting unfavorable coverage of China -- have attacked their computer systems.

Then there's the likely effectiveness of the book's criticism of China. On a January visit to Chinese client state North Korea with former U.S. diplomat Bill Richardson, Schmidt urged Pyongyang to make the Internet available to North Koreans and stop restricting information -- to no effect. …