Cyber-Espionage Against The US Is On The Rise
February 12, 2013

China Targeting US Firms In Sustained Cyber-espionage: Report

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

China is conducting a sustained cyber-espionage campaign against US businesses and institutions in an effort to find information that would give Chinese firms an economic advantage, according to a new US intelligence assessment.

The classified National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), which represents the consensus view of the US intelligence community, is one of the most secretive national security documents in the federal government. The current report concludes China is the nation most aggressively targeting US businesses in acts of economic espionage, the Washington Post reported, citing sources familiar with the document.

Russia, Israel and France have also engaged in cyber-espionage for purposes of economic gain, although to a far lesser extent than China, according to the report.

The assessment identified a variety of sectors that have been the target of hacking over the past five years, including energy, finance, information technology, aerospace and automotive, but did not calculate the financial impact of these attacks. Some experts have estimated the costs of cyber-espionage to the US economy to be between $25 billion to $100 billion per year, while others say the losses are far lower.

Since the 1980s, China has sought to acquire Western technology — legally or illegally. Some experts believe the use of illicit tactics is a central part of China´s economic development plans, although Beijing has vehemently denied these allegations, saying it neither condones nor conducts computer hacking.

The bulk of China´s cyber-espionage is thought to be aimed at commercial entities involved with military technology. In 2011, Chinese hackers attacked network security firm RSA Security, and used the stolen technology to infiltrate military-industrial targets. A few months later, the networks of defense firm Lockheed Martin, which used RSA security tokens, were penetrated by Chinese hackers.

Companies in non-technology sectors have also been targeted, although not always for economic reasons. Recently, a number of prominent US media outlets, including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, disclosed their networks had been compromised in a series of hacking attacks that originated in China.

Cyber-espionage is increasingly being seen as a serious threat to US economic interests. The current NIE comes roughly two weeks after the Obama administration reportedly sought a full assessment of the cyberthreats posed by China. It also coincides with government efforts to craft new policies to address the nation´s growing cyberthreats.

The US State Department has included the issue as part of its strategic security discussions with China, while the Department of Justice has created a program within the past year to train 100 prosecutors for cases related to cyber-crimes backed by foreign governments.

Separately, the White House is expected on Wednesday to issue an executive order on cybersecurity, which will reportedly call for new voluntary standards for vital private-sector networks and computer systems, and for boosting collaboration between the government and businesses to help secure private infrastructure against cyber-attacks.