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Expand chart
Source code for Snake game by Patrick Gillespie. Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

One big fear about President Trump's tariff fight with China is that Beijing would retaliate by resurrecting its campaign of stealing patents, manufacturing processes and other trade secrets from U.S. companies. The Obama administration mostly shut that down in 2015.

Reality check: But Dmitri Alperovitch, co-founder of CrowdStrike, says China didn’t wait for the latest controversy to revive its intellectual-property hacking program — it has already been ramping up efforts ever since Trump took office. “We’ve seen China expand its hacking for IP throughout 2017,” Alperovitch said.

The big picture: Until 2015 China’s state-sanctioned U.S. hacking operations regularly stole trade secrets to benefit its businesses.

  • At that time, tech IP theft cost the U.S. economy $300 billion annually — with China responsible for 80%, according to testimony from Michelle Van Cleave of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.
  • The Obama administration countered the threat by indicting the Chinese military hackers leading the charge in 2014 and threatening sanctions in 2015. Finally, in September 2015, China formally agreed to stop hacking the U.S. for economic espionage.

“It never went entirely away, but the reductions were significant,” said Alperovitch. The current uptick, he added, appears to target tech companies, law firms and medical manufacturers.

The numbers (then): FireEye, a competitor of CrowdStrike, saw a continuous decline in attacks throughout the Obama effort. Before the indictments in 2014, the company saw around 60 attacks a month targeting IP from China. After the indictments, that number dropped to under 40. With the threat of sanctions, it dropped to under 10 a month.

  • But, said Alperovitch, Obama may have benefited from a reorganization in China underway at the time. China was physically relocating its hackers to centralize them, and also cracking down on government corruption — which may have given officials additional incentives to promote the hacking.

The bottom line: Trump's tariffs are meant, in part, to counter intellectual property theft, but Alperovitch thinks the best response would be targeted sanctions. “What Xi really feared from Obama was sanctioning the companies that benefitted from the theft,” he said. “That’s still an option.”

Go deeper

Updated 4 hours ago - Sports

Olympics dashboard

Silver medalist Lilly King of Team USA (left) embraces gold medalist Tatjana Schoenmaker of Team South Africa on the podium during the medal ceremony for the Women's 200m breaststroke final on July 30. Photo: Clive Rose/Getty Images

🥇 : U.S. gymnast Suni Lee wins gold in the women's individual all-around

🚣‍♀️: Team USA women's eight rowing fails to reach the podium

🤸🏾‍♀️: Simone Biles reacts to "love and support" after withdrawing from all-around gymnastics and team finals, citing her mental health

🏊: Olympic swimmer Ryan Murphy wins Silver in 200m

📷: In photos: Tokyo Olympics day 6 highlights

🗓: The Olympic events to watch today

🏃‍: Female Olympians push back against double standard in uniforms

Go deeper: Full Axios coverage

Former Michigan Sen. Carl Levin dies at 87

Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) in 2014. He died Thursday. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Former U.S. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) died Thursday, his family and the Levin Center at Wayne Law — which bore his name — confirmed. He was 87.

Why it matters: The Detroit native served for 36 years in the U.S. Senate, serving twice as chairman of the Armed Services Committee and is credited with helping overturn the military's “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” rule.

Updated 5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Military members will be included in Biden's new COVID guidance

Joe Biden. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Members of the military will be required to get vaccinations or face regular testing, social distancing, mask mandates and restrictions on travel for work, the the Pentagon said on Thursday evening.

Why it matters: The policy was announced for federal workers and onsite contractors earlier on Thursday, part of several new Biden initiatives to get more Americans vaccinated and slow the spread of the Delta variant.