U.S. intelligence agencies, in an unusually blunt public criticism of China and Russia, reported to Congress on Thursday that those two foreign governments steal valuable U.S. technology over the Internet as a matter of national policy.
Both China and Russia hide behind the anonymity of proxy computers and dispersed routers in third countries to pilfer proprietary corporate information to accelerate their own economic development, according to the new intelligence assessment.
They also have targeted the computer networks of government agencies and universities, the report said.
For years, U.S. officials have hinted that China and Russia were leading suspects in the Internet theft of economic secrets, and those accusations have appeared as scattered commentary in government reports. Google has accused China twice in two years of broad Internet intrusions targeting its users.
But U.S. officials, when pressed, have said pinpointing the culprits remained difficult in cyberspace, and they also usually emphasized that specific complaints of computer-network espionage were best raised in private government-to-government channels.
In contrast, the new intelligence study, compiled as a report to Congress on foreign economic and industrial espionage over the past two years, presents a pointed case that China and Russia are the leading actors in the Internet theft of economic secrets. Officials took pains to make sure journalists were alerted to its significance.
“The computer networks of a broad array of U.S. government agencies, private companies, universities and other institutions — all holding large volumes of sensitive economic information — were targeted by cyberespionage,” according to the report.
“Chinese actors are the world's most active and persistent perpetrators of economic espionage,” it added. “Russia's intelligence services are conducting a range of activities to collect economic information and technology from U.S. targets.”
The governments in Beijing and Moscow, and their intelligence services, contract with independent hackers to expand their capabilities and cloak responsibility for the computer intrusions, according to the report.
Even friendly nations spy on the United States via computers. The report warns that “some U.S. allies and partners use their broad access to U.S. institutions to acquire sensitive U.S. economic and technology information.”
Senior officials in China state unwaveringly that their government opposes computer-based espionage.
The report is the collective assessment of 14 U.S. intelligence agencies and was compiled by the Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive, which reports to the director of national intelligence.