China and Russia Top List Of U.S. Economic Cyberspies

It is not the first time when U.S. officials complained that China and Russia are out to steal U.S. trade secrets, intellectual property and high technology. They have never decried it in public, referring obliquely to “some nations” or “our rivals.”

A poster warns U.S. companies of the threat of cyber-espionage. A new report released Thursday names China and Russia as the top culprits in the theft of U.S. intellectual property and technology. Photo: The Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive

The situation changed with a new report by the Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive to Congress titled “Foreign Spies Stealing U.S. Economic Secrets in Cyberspace.” The report names China and Russia as the world’s leading sources of economic espionage.

“Chinese actors are the world’s most active and persistent perpetrators of economic espionage,” as for Russia’s intelligence services “are conducting a range of activities to collect economic information and technology from U.S. targets,” according to the report, which collected the assessments of 14 American intelligence agencies.

The report also names some more countries, which are supposed to conduct cyberspying to steal U.S. secrets, but did not name those countries.

USA executives admitted the difficulty in determining who is exactly the author of a cyber attack. The research showed that U.S. companies have faced intrusions into their computer networks that originated in China, but U.S. intelligence agencies cannot confirm who specifically is behind them.

“To a certain degree that’s determined by the sophistication of the attack,” National Counterintelligence Executive Robert Bryant said. “If it’s a very sophisticated attack we basically assume that either a foreign intelligence service or a government sponsor is somewhere involved.”

The report also named some areas of interest which may be foreign cyber espionage targets. The list includes information and communications technology, military technologies such as unmanned aerial vehicles, and civilian technologies such as clean energy, and health care and pharmaceuticals and so on.

The National Science Foundation said research and development spending by US government, industry and universities was $398 billion in 2008. But there are no reliable gauges for how much is stolen through cyber spying. “This is a quiet menace to our economy with notably big results,” Mr Bryant said.

The report cites Russia is interested in trying to move away from an economy dependent on natural resources, ‪”Moscow’s highly capable intelligence services are using HUMINT (human intelligence), cyber and other operations to collect economic information and technology to support Russia’s economic development and security.”

Another U.S. intelligence official says that Chinese leaders named the next decade as”a window of strategic opportunity” for their country. Their aim is to catch up economically to the West. To manage to do that, they need Western technology, because they don’t have the same tradition of innovation that the U.S. has.

China is often blamed for cyber attacks, but Chinese government officials deny everything saying they are frequently the victim of computer intrusions as well.

The reporters also said espionage is a part of the national policy of China and Russia to try to acquire sensitive technology which they need for their own economic development, while the United States does not do economic espionage as part of its national policy.

Officials are trying to warn U.S. companies about the risk of being attacked.

“Lots of companies are the victims and they don’t even know it,” said a senior intelligence official said who spoke on a condition of anonymity when speaking to reporters. “There is not a silver bullet here. We need to get this issue under control.” [Via NPR and The Telegraph]

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