A Chinese cyberespionage group called APT10 relentlessly attacks US engineering, telecom and aerospace industries. Russian hackers last year compromised dozens of US energy companies. Iranian hackers known as Rocket Kitten repeatedly target US defense companies in the hopes of stealing information to boost Tehran’s missile and space programs.
While Moscow’s efforts to meddle in the 2016 US presidential election are widely known, spy services from China, Russia and Iran, along with their proxy hackers, are also hard at work trying to steal trade secrets and proprietary information from the US, a government report released on Thursday said.
A classified version of the report was sent to the US Congress.
“Foreign economic and industrial espionage against the United States continues to represent a significant threat to America’s prosperity, security and competitive advantage,” the US National Counterintelligence and Security Center said. “China, Russia and Iran stand out as three of the most capable and active cyberactors tied to economic espionage and the potential theft of US trade secrets and proprietary information.”
Cyberespionage is a relatively low-cost, high-yield way to access and acquire information from US research institutions, universities and corporations, and more vulnerabilities are likely to emerge with the increase in cloud computing, artificial intelligence and the proliferation of vehicles, home appliances, medical devices and other items connected to the Internet, the report said.
Cyberoperations are the preferred method for conducting economic espionage, but US adversaries also acquire sensitive information by hiring sophisticated hackers, recruiting spies or gleaning material from foreign students studying at US universities, it said.
Adversaries also are infiltrating computer networks of suppliers that serve large companies and then using that connection to worm their way up the chain into large corporate computer systems, the report said.
Bill Evanina, the nation’s top counterintelligence official and director of the center, told reporters at a briefing that business leaders need to investigate the security of computer systems used by companies that supply things such as their air conditioning and heating, and printers and copiers.
“Our economic security is our national security,” Evanina said “We cannot just get numb to our adversaries stealing our intellectual property.”
The report listed two dozen technologies that have piqued the interest of foreign intelligence collectors. They include oil, gas and coal-bed methane gas energies; smart grids; solar and wind technologies; biopharmaceuticals and new vaccines and drugs; defensive marine systems and radar; hybrid and electric cars; pollution control; high-end computer numerically controlled machines, which are used to control factory tools and machines in manufacturing; space infrastructure and exploration technology; synthetic rubber; rare earth materials; quantum computing; and next-generation broadband wireless communications networks.
US Cyber Threat Intelligence Integration Center Deputy Director Michael Moss said incidents of economic espionage are growing rapidly.
“The thing that continues to surprise me is how fast it continues to accelerate. It’s getting faster and faster,” he said.
China uses joint ventures to try to acquire technical know-how, the report said.
Beijing seeks partnerships with US government labs to learn about specific technology and information about running such facilities, and uses front companies to hide the hand of the Chinese government and acquire technology under US export controls, the report said.
Economic espionage conducted by hackers linked to Russia is mostly aimed at finding ways to inflict damage on the US, disrupt services or benefit its economic interests, it said.
Iranian’s operations have typically targeted adversaries in the Middle East, such as Israel and Saudi Arabia, but it also tries to infiltrate US networks to acquire technologies to bolster economic growth, modernize its military and increase exports, the report said.
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