Cyber-Espionage Now Considered a Direct Threat to American Economic Interests

Cyber-espionage, particularly for gathering economic intelligence, no longer looms on the horizon – according to the US government it is now a clear and present danger. Ellen Nakashima, a security reporter for The Washington Post, provided a brief summary of the findings of the National Intelligence Estimate in her 13 February 2013 Post article, “U.S. said to be target of massive cyber-espionage campaign.” According to the National Intelligence Estimate, a consensus view of the U.S. intelligence community, a number of sectors of the American economy, including aerospace, automotive, energy, finance and IT, have been under attack from foreign hackers since 2007. The financial impact of five years of hacking hasn’t been quantified, but experts outside the U.S. government estimate losses of tens of billions of dollars.

The National Intelligence Estimate names four countries, China, France, Israel and Russia, as prime culprits, but alleges that China’s effort dwarfs that of France, Israel and Russia. Beijing made an emphatic denial of the Estimate’s findings, declaring that Chinese government neither permits nor participates in cyber-espionage.

Former deputy defense Secretary William J. Lynn III remarked, “We need the NIE on cyber for a systematic and comprehensive understanding of what the most dangerous technologies are, who are the most threatening actors and what are our greatest vulnerabilities.”

The National Intelligence Estimate arrives at a time when the Obama administration is seeking ways to counter the online theft of trade secrets. According to analysts, the avenues the administration might pursue include formal protests, the expulsion of diplomatic personnel, the imposition of travel and visa restrictions, and complaints to the World Trade Organization.

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