Nicole Lindsey Chief Privacy Officer Magazine reported on a testimony that top U.S. law enforcement and national security officials gave in front of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that highlighted the cyber threat China poses to the U.S.
The findings during this committee was that China’s cyber threat to America “appears to be much greater and more extensive than originally thought.”
FBI Director Christopher Wray argued that Chinese intelligence agencies “are becoming much more sophisticated in how they conduct spying activities in the realm of cyber espionage.”
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Chinese intelligence assets are allegedly interacting with various actors, which range from counterintelligence officials actings as diplomats “for hire” to cyber syndicates. This is all part of a process “to carry out the massive and systematic theft of state secrets, trade secrets, data and valuable intellectual property.”
Because of how advanced China’s intelligence operations have become, Wray believes that China should be seen as the “most severe counterintelligence threat” to America.
Part of China’s counterintelligence operations consist of trying to steal U.S. trade secrets. They generally recruit university graduates and researchers as a means of bringing data and technology back to China.
China allegedly abuses specific programs such as the “Thousand Talents” program — a program with the purpose of enticing overseas Chinese to return to mainland China — to access intellectual property. Wray notes that for the Chinese ” just about anyone – a diplomat, an executive, a researcher, a student, a hacker-for-hire, or a low-level employee – can become an agent involved in cyber and economic espionage.”
The cyber threat to American interests is no joke. According to Wray, the FBI has over 1,000 investigation open into intellectual property theft that are traced back to China. Similarly, there is at least one investigation dealing with potential Chinese cyber-espionage at each of the FBI’s 56 field offices throughout the country.
China’s cyber security threats don’t just pose major inconveniences for businesses, they also present numerous U.S. national security threats. Through the theft of military secrets from top defense contractors, China could use this information to develop advanced weaponry that is on par with the U.S. military. Additionally. trade secrets could greatly strengthen corporate giants like Huawei as they expand their reach abroad. Even access to state secrets puts U.S. diplomats at a disadvantage when crafting trade deals and similar policies— whether it be on a bilateral basis with China or at multilateral institutions like the U.N.
Wray suggests that American corporations and government entities focus on detecting and then mitigating present threats that are already inside of their networks. Prevention by bolstering security is key, but Wray believes that America must be more proactive on these issues. Further, American universities must be willing to take the on the challenge of detecting subversive threats on their campuses. After all, the Chinese Communist Party has been effective in “using students, researchers and academics to steal technology that U.S. universities need to wake up to this fact.” Wray also suggested that corporations re-assess their current practices. One example is how companies store their sensitive corporate data on Chinese servers based in China. China already has laws on the books that make it easy for the Chinese state to access this data.
All in all, China poses a major threat to American interests, but in a very unconventional way. Policymakers will have to adapt to these challenges that are very unique to the 21st century.