China, Russia, Iran pose grave cyber espionage threat: government report

China, Russia, Iran pose grave cyber espionage threat: government report
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Hackers from China, Russia and Iran have been consistently stealing U.S. trade secrets, posing a significant and growing threat to the United States, a new government report says.

“Foreign economic and industrial espionage against the United States continues to represent a significant threat to America’s prosperity, security, and competitive advantage,” the report from the National Counterintelligence and Security Center released on Thursday states. 

“Foreign intelligence services — and threat actors working on their behalf — continue to represent the most persistent and pervasive cyber intelligence threat.”

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China, Russia, and Iran, the document says, “stand out as three of the most capable and active cyber actors tied to economic espionage and the potential theft of U.S. trade secrets and proprietary information.”

The report highlights several cyber operations based in the three countries that have threatened U.S. firms and interests, including an ongoing operation in which an Iranian hacker group named “Rocket Kitten” targets U.S.-based defense firms to bolster its missile and space programs. 

The government document rehashes much of what those in the security community have acknowledged publicly — that hackers linked to governments in these three countries pose a grave and consistent threat to American companies. 

It’s conclusions, however, are notable, particularly given the landmark accord struck between Washington and Beijing in 2015 during the Obama administration to stop conducting cyber-enabled economic espionage against companies in one another’s borders.

It also comes as U.S. lawmakers express growing concerns over threats from foreign actors looking to gain an edge over the United States in military technology or other areas. 

The report acknowledges that China “continues to use cyber espionage to support its strategic development goals — science and technology advancement, military modernization, and economic policy objectives.” However, it notes that the intelligence community and security professionals have observed espionage activity at “lower volumes” since 2015.

Officials also name Iran as an “increasing” cyber threat — a judgment in line with analysts who have observed Tehran-linked hackers growing more sophisticated in their tactics and expanding their operations in recent months. 

Nations with “closer ties” to the U.S. also engage in cyber espionage to target U.S. technology secrets, the report says, without naming specific allied nations or partners.

“We anticipate that China, Russia, and Iran will remain aggressive and capable collectors of sensitive U.S. economic information and technologies, particularly in cyberspace,” the report says.

“All will almost certainly continue to deploy significant resources and a wide array of tactics to acquire intellectual property and proprietary information.”