FBI Director Wray warns of Chinese hacking, espionage threats against American companies

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FBI Director Christopher Wray on Tuesday warned of ongoing Chinese counterintelligence threats to American companies and health care groups, saying that Chinese espionage cases had increased by 1,300 percent over the past decade.

“We are conducting these kinds of investigations in all 56 of our field offices, and over the past decade, we have seen economic espionage cases linked to China increase by approximately 1,300 percent,” Wray said during an event at the Hudson Institute. “The stakes could not be higher, and the potential economic harm to American businesses and the economy as a whole almost defies calculation.” 

Wray said the threats were so widespread that all of the FBI’s field offices across the country were working on cases around Chinese espionage and that the FBI opened a new Chinese counterintelligence investigation “about every 10 hours.”

“Of the nearly 5,000 active FBI counterintelligence cases currently underway across the country, about half are all related to China,” Wray said. “At this very moment, China is working to compromise American health care organizations, pharmaceutical companies and academic institutions conducting essential COVID-19 research.”

Wray cited massive Chinese hacking incidents over the past few years in describing the threat, including the 2017 breach of credit agency Equifax that exposed the personal information of around 145 million Americans and the 2015 data breach of health company Anthem that impacted more than 78 million people.

He also pointed to concerns over Chinese telecommunications group Huawei having access to communications networks and efforts by the Chinese Communist Party to steal research from U.S. academic institutions and companies.

“It’s the people of the United States who are the victims of what amounts to Chinese theft on a scale so massive that it represents one of the largest transfers of wealth in human history,” Wray said. “If you are an American adult, it is more likely than not that China has stolen your personal information.”

Wray noted that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Attorney General William Barr will also address Chinese counterintelligence threats “in the next few weeks” due to the significance of the ongoing national security concerns. 

Both Barr and Pompeo have previously underscored the threats from China. Pompeo accused China of spreading disinformation around COVID-19 in March, while Barr described China’s efforts to steal U.S. intellectual property and advancing its technological efforts as “an unprecedented challenge” to the nation during a Justice Department summit in February. 

The FBI previously joined forces with the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency in May to issue an alert warning that Chinese government-backed hackers were targeting U.S. organizations involved in developing vaccines and treatments for COVID-19.

Wray cautioned that, despite these steps, the threats are ongoing. 

“The greatest long-term threat to our nation’s information and intellectual property and our economic vitality is the counterintelligence and economic espionage threats from China,” Wray warned. “It’s a threat to our economic security and, by extension, to our national security.”

Tags China Christopher Wray cybersecurity Data collection Espionage FBI Federal Bureau of Investigation Mike Pompeo National security William Barr

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