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Francis Santos

Cyber Espionage, Corporate Spying Threat to 21st Century Business

Nov 22 2011, 07:02 PM by

Back in May, former U.S. Air Force Lieutenant General and current Director of National Intelligence James Clapper called China the biggest threat to the United States. He considered Russia the second most serious threat on the radar. Although Clapper’s statement to the Senate was made in reference to the nuclear arsenals in the possession of the two foreign nations, a new report indicates that the retired military commander may have been on to something.

According to a report published by the Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive (ONCIX), the U.S. should be weary of both China and Russia, particularly on the cyber espionage front. The report claims that China has been known to exploit its own citizens by trying to convince them to steal data from U.S. employers through their friends, family members and other connections working in the states.

Russia was accused of using a wide range of tactics to gather technology and economic data from U.S. companies. Additionally, the report suggested that China will continue to be aggressive and highly capable in its efforts to steal data from targets in the U.S.
Technology Empowering Corporate Spying
Whether it is of the economic, industrial or corporate variety, espionage is nothing new. One of the most famous cases of this controversial practice occurred in 1993 when Bill Gaede, a former Intel employer, attempted to sell designs for the i486 and P5 processors to AMD, his then employer and longtime Intel rival. Gaeda video recorded the data for the designs to his computer screen and sent it to AMD and possibly third parties in China and Iran. It wasn’t long before he was arrested and sentenced to 33 months in prison for his crimes.

The Intel incident turned out to be such a big deal that it lead to the passing of the Industrial Espionage Act of 1996, a federal legislation that made it unlawful to steal trade secrets. With the internet rising to prominence around this time, Congress was forced to respond with action that not only protected company data but also information sensitive to the U.S. economy as a whole.

Laws have certainly evolved to be much tougher these days, but technology has advanced even more. Companies of all sorts rely on IT systems to cut costs, boost productivity and enjoy other business benefits. On the flip side, the very technology that is enabling corporate America to thrive has also made it vulnerable to the growing problem of cyber espionage. Thanks to the extensive resources of the internet, corporate spying is alarmingly simple and convenient to execute. This is mainly due to the fact that such a large amount of sensitive data is traveling insecurely across laptops, smartphones and tablet devices.
Fighting Back against Cyber Spies
The effects of a successful cyber espionage attack can be devastating and, unfortunately, stopping such exploits in their tracks has proven difficult. Even when an intrusion has been detected, the fact that it can be executed through a multitude of computers across the world often makes it next to impossible to track down the original source. As the threat of corporate spying continues to grow, so must the security mechanisms aimed at detecting and stamping it out. With the ONCIX report showing that the majority of attacks on U.S. companies originate from China, a strategy that specifically accounts for Chinese spies should probably be a priority.

Meanwhile, Hong Lei, a spokesperson from the Chinese Foreign Ministry, denied the ONCIX’s claims of cyber espionage, calling the report “unprofessional and irresponsible.” Lei said he hopes the global community will abandon prejudice and continue to work with China to preserve security in the digital space. Something tells us this story is far from over.

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