So much sensitive information and research is on computer networks that foreign intruders can collect massive amounts of data quickly and with little risk because they are difficult to detect, according to the report to Congress titled “Foreign Spies Stealing US Economic Secrets in Cyberspace.”
The Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive report for 2009-2011 included input from intelligence agencies, the private sector, think tanks and academia.
Foreign intelligence services, corporations and individuals increased their efforts to steal U.S. technologies which cost millions of dollars to develop, the report said. Methods included extracting information remotely from their home base, downloading data to a portable device, and transmitting information by email.
Years ago, “spies were taking out information by file folders, today they’re taken out in thumb drives,” a senior U.S. intelligence official said.
"Our research and development is under attack," he said.
Intelligence services, private companies, academic institutions and citizens of dozens of countries target the United States, the report said. But it only named China and Russia.
"Chinese actors are the world’s most active and persistent perpetrators of economic espionage," the report said.
While U.S. companies have reported cyber intrusions that originated in China, the intelligence agencies cannot confirm who is behind them, the report said.
When pressed about what undeniable evidence the United States has that China is conducting cyber espionage, the intelligence official declined to discuss details publicly. “We didn’t pull this out of the air,” he said.