The Cybermugging of America
Nov 3, 2011 1:08 PM PT
Criminals in countries all over the world, including allies of the United States, are committing cybertheft and industrial espionage against America, the National Counterintelligence Agency (NCA) has warned.
In a report submitted to Congress in October, the agency states that foreign collectors of sensitive economic information can operate in cyberspace with relatively little risk of being detected by their private-sector targets.
The perpetrators are intelligence services, private sector companies, academic and research institutions and private citizens in dozens of foreign countries, some of which are our allies, the report claims.
These attempts will continue at a high level, will represent a growing and persistent threat to U.S. economic security, and will evolve with continuing technological advances, the report warns.
"In a nutshell, organizations are more aware than ever before that attacks are successfully penetrating [their networks]," Scott Crawford, managing research director at Enterprise Management Associates, told TechNewsWorld.
More Tidbits From the Report
The NCA report named Russian intelligence services as one of the culprits conducting cyberespionage and cybertheft.
It also states there's been an onslaught of computer network intrusions that have originated in China, but the actual perpetrators haven't been identified.
That should come as no surprise to cybersecurity experts -- it's easy to set up a command and control server anywhere in the world, and China's laws governing this area are known to be relatively lax.
"Certainly, routing traffic to cover or confuse the point of origin [of an attack] is a common practice worldwide," Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, told TechNewsWorld.
However, China monitors Web traffic and controls inflowing data "to a far greater degree than nearly any other major power, so it's easy to imagine scenarios where individual and group hackers within China could do so with the implicit or explicit support of the government," King added.
The NCA report also states that some U.S. allies and partners are leveraging their broad access to U.S. institutions to acquire sensitive U.S. economic and technology information.
"Spying on one's friends has been common practice for centuries, if not millennia," King pointed out. "How else can you be certain that they're your friends?"
The Pain Points of Privacy and Globalization
Access to all information at any time anywhere has been the rallying cry of techies for some time. That has led to greater emphasis on access to information and less on privacy or data protection.
This, together with the shift toward globalization, which will make national boundaries less of a deterrent to economic espionage than before, may make it easier for cybertheft and cyberespionage, the report states.
Governments everywhere, including that of the U.S., together with the corporate sector, have been chipping away at privacy for some time now, and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has openly stated that privacy is dead, so perhaps little can be done to safeguard America's secrets in this regard.
However, law enforcement agencies are slowly making progress in combating cybertheft across national boundaries. For example, the FBI arrested 16 people in July on suspicion of involvement in cyberattacks, in cooperation with the Dutch police and the Metropolitan police in the UK.
A Darker Tomorrow
The NCA predicts that the governments of Russia and China will remain "aggressive and capable collectors of sensitive U.S. economic information and technologies, particularly in cyberspace."
Threats may also emerge from other countries -- fast-growing regional powers may decide that changes in their economic and political interests will make it worth their while to conduct espionage online and through traditional means against U.S. technologies and economic information, the report states.
Foreign actors may be most interested in information and communications technology, business information pertaining to supplies of scarce natural resources, military technologies and civilian and dual-use technologies in fast-growing areas such as clean energy and pharmaceuticals, according to the report.