In its most blunt statement to date, the U.S. government accused both China and Russia of conducting far flung cyber espionage campaigns against U.S. and other Western firms in an effort to promote domestic interests.
The report, “Foreign Spies Stealing US Economic Secrets in Cyberspace” was prepared by the Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive. It found that cyber espionage on the part of China and Russia – and even from U.S. allies – is a “pervasive threat” to U.S. interests that surpasses even the threat posed by traditional forms of spying.
This isn’t the first public warning about cyber espionage against U.S. firms. In January, the U.S. Department of Defense warned of attempts by foreign spies to obtain classified or restricted U.S. technology increased and that foreign governments are focusing their spying efforts on naval and marine technology that could provide the foundation for a next generation “blue water” navy.That report named “entities” from “East Asia and the Pacific region” as the source of the hacks, and a major problem for the U.S. military and military contractors.
Departing from the more diplomatic tone traditionally reserved for discussions of economic espionage, the latest report unequivocally names China the world’s most active and persistent perpetrator of economic espionage against private sector firms in the U.S. China, as well as Russia, have relied on computer network intrusions to gather information. The U.S.’s role as a leader in developing new technologies, coupled with the increasing adoption of cloud-based computing and mobile devices will create opportunities for cyber spies.
“We judge that the governments of China and Russia will remain aggressive and capable collectors of sensitive US economic information and technologies, particularly in cyberspace,” the report says.
Foreign governments engaged in cyber espionage are interested in a wide range of information, including information and communications technologies, information on the location of scarce natural resources that can benefit foreign firms, as well as military and civilian technologies.
The report, part of an annual assessment of foreign economic data collection and industrial espionage, accumulates the work of a slew of military branches as well as the FBI, Department of Energy, State Department, and intelligence agencies like the NSA and CIA. It is a departure from earlier reports in that it focuses on cyber espionage. The advent of the Internet and digital technology has made it easy for foreign entities to collect enormous quantities of data quickly and with little risk, the report concludes.
While foreign entities use malicious software and Web- and network based attacks to gain a foothold on sensitive networks, cyber is by no means the only vector used. Foreign governments have been known to use Requests for Information (RFI), solicitation of marketing, conferences and joint research projects to gather information.