WASHINGTON China and Russia are using cyber espionage to steal U.S. trade and technology secrets to bolster their own economic development, which poses a threat to U.S. prosperity and security, a U.S. intelligence report said on Thursday.
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."
Foreign intelligence services, corporations and individuals increased their efforts to steal U.S. technologies which cost millions of dollars to develop, according to a report by the Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive, a U.S. government agency. The report covers 2009-2011.
"The nations of China and Russia, through their intelligence services and through their corporations, are attacking our research and development," National Counterintelligence Executive Robert Bryant said.
"That's a serious issue because if we fuel their economies on our information, I don't think that's right," he said at a news conference.
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.
Russia was also singled out. "Russia's intelligence services are conducting a range of activities to collect economic information and technology from US targets," the report said.
It acknowledged the difficulty of determining who exactly is behind a cyber attack. U.S. companies have reported intrusions into their computer networks that originated in China, but U.S. intelligence agencies cannot confirm who specifically is behind them.
"To a certain degree that's determined by the sophistication of the attack," Bryant said. "If it's a very sophisticated attack we basically assume that either a foreign intelligence service or a government sponsor is somewhere involved."
Information and communications technology, military technologies such as unmanned aerial vehicles, and civilian technologies such as clean energy, and healthcare and pharmaceuticals are areas that may be of interest as foreign cyber espionage targets, the report said.
The National Science Foundation said research and development spending by U.S. government, industry and universities was $398 billion in 2008. But there are no reliable gauges for how much is stolen through cyber spying.
"This is a quiet menace to our economy with notably big results," Bryant said. "Trade secrets developed over thousands of working hours by our brightest minds are stolen in a split second and transferred to our competitors."
Intelligence officials say it is part of the national policy of China and Russia to try to acquire sensitive technology which they need for their own economic development, while the United States does not do economic espionage as part of its national policy.
The State Department in June said it had asked Beijing to investigate Google's allegation of a major hacking attack that the Internet giant said originated in China.
China is often blamed for cyber attacks, but Beijing's response has been that it is unfairly accused by countries unhappy with its economic rise and that it has also been a victim of cyber attacks.
House intelligence committee Chairman Mike Rogers, a Republican, said the report confirmed what he is constantly hearing. "This once again underscores the need for America's allies across Asia and Europe to join forces to pressure Beijing to end this illegal behavior."
The intelligence report said some U.S. allies and partners use their access to U.S. institutions to acquire sensitive economic and technology information, mainly through human spying tactics. But they were not named in the report, which included input from intelligence agencies, the private sector, and academia.
The pace of foreign economic and industrial espionage against the United States is accelerating, the report said.
"We judge that the governments of China and Russia will remain aggressive and capable collectors of sensitive US economic information and technologies, particularly in cyberspace."
China and Russia are "motivated by the desire to achieve economic, strategic, and military parity with the United States," the report said.
The intelligence report was released publicly to raise awareness of the issue in the hopes that public, private and academic partnerships can find solutions, officials said.
"This is a national long-term strategic threat to the United States of America," Bryant said. This is an issue where "failure is not an option."
(Editing by Mohammad Zargham and Doina Chiacu)