Chinese cyber-espionage threatens U.S. economy, DoD says

Chinese hackers aiming malware at U.S. industries and government agencies threaten the nation's economy, the Defense Department says.

While not all cyber-espionage originates from China, the communist nation is where a lot of cyber-attacks start.

"Chinese actors are the world's most active and persistent perpetrators of economic espionage," the DoD said in its recent national security report to Congress. "Chinese attempts to collect U.S. technological and economic information will continue at a high level and will represent a growing and persistent threat to U.S. economic security."

China has dismissed such allegations for sometime, saying they harken back to days of Cold War politics.

"There's a ghost abroad called the Cold War and a virus called the China threat," Qin Gang, a spokesman for China's foreign ministry, said in response to another DoD report with similar findings. "The China threat virus carried by people obsessed by the Cold War ghost keeps breaking out. They're attempts to use rumors to bring shame on China will never succeed."

Despite Chinese government denials, U.S. security experts say the nation's sensitive economic information and technology remain the targets of foreign intelligence services, private sector companies, academic/research institutions and citizens of dozens of countries. "China is likely to remain an aggressive and capable collector of sensitive U.S. economic information and technologies, particularly in cyberspace," the latest report said.

China's refusal to even recognize the problem, never mind address it, is behind opposition to granting an international service license to China Mobile, the country's largest wireless carrier. The FBI, Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department's national security division have raised concerns that the license could make it easier for China to spy on the U.S. or steal intellectual property from U.S. companies, according to a McClatchy-Tribune report this month.

In addition to opposing China Mobile's efforts, the FBI has launched a media campaign in cities where there are government intelligence agencies and private contractors working on secret military projects, CBS News reported on Wednesday. The ads are meant to build public awareness of cyber-espionage.

The need to boost people's awareness of Internet security is needed, according to the recent Unisys Security Index, a snapshot of Americans' sense of security, based on a telephone survey of more than 1,000 adults.

The survey found that the nation's Internet Security Index had fallen 35 points since last year to 119. That means Americans went from being "seriously concerned" about the threat to "moderately concerned." The drop comes at a time when malware targeting mobile devices used to access the Web are soaring.

"People have become numb from all the press on cyber-security attacks," Steve Vinsik, vice president of global security solutions at Unisys, said on Thursday.

Contributing to the false sense of security is the fact that the number of people who have become victims of identity theft has not grown at the same rate as the amount of data stolen from corporate networks, Vinsik said. As a result, those that have not fallen victim to attacks become less concerned.

Read more about malware/cybercrime in CSOonline's Malware/Cybercrime section.

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