DOJ's China hack indictments offer businesses key threat intel, officials say

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The Justice Department's ongoing effort to crackdown on Chinese intellectual property theft has resulted in 1,000 foreign nationals being expelled from the United States, and a top intelligence official says U.S. businesses should take note of what the indictments disclose about China's tactics.

The 1,000 individuals were allegedly researchers who had to come the U.S. without disclosing their affiliation to the Chinese military, John Demers, assistant attorney general for national security, said during a Dec. 2 event hosted by the Aspen Institute event.

Demers characterized a handful of arrests that happened earlier this year as "just the tip of the iceberg," adding that "honestly the size of the iceberg is one that I don't know that we or other folks realized how large it was."

"Our prosecutions were just the beginning of that, but they allowed us to message to the Chinese government that if you're going to send individuals here, then you've got to do so honestly," he continued.

William Evanina, director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, who was speaking alongside Demers, said U.S. businesses should read the indictments as explanations for the tactics the Chinese government uses.

Evanina specifically pointed to a series of indictments against the Chinese telecommunications company Huawei as well as a case involving efforts to steal trade secrets from Micron, an American semi-conductor company.

"Every CEO and general counsel needs to read these two indictments, because this is the tried and true process," Evanina said. "Not only from a cyber capability and the penetration, but strategic intent of the Communist Party of China as well as the insider threat."

Evanina said he has had success in sharing those indictments overseas as a way to educate his European counterparts.

Evanina also said the intelligence community has recently noticed an uptick in Chinese influence campaigns directed at President-elect Joe Biden, his new administration and individuals connected to the transition. He called the efforts predictable and said his team would be “keen” to brief the new administration on what those campaigns look like.

Sue Gordon, former deputy director of national intelligence, yesterday in an Aspen discussion credited the Trump administration with "awakening" the country to the growing economic threat that China poses.

"China is still going to be the priority [under a new administration]. I think what the Trump administration actually did was awaken us to the economic impact of what had been a growing threat such that we could deal with it," Gordon said.

"We have been awakened about the intellectual property theft piece of it … I think the next piece they need to take on is the supply chain and the technological interdependence of all our systems," she continued.

About the Author

Justin Katz covers cybersecurity for FCW. Previously he covered the Navy and Marine Corps for Inside Defense, focusing on weapons, vehicle acquisition and congressional oversight of the Pentagon. Prior to reporting for Inside Defense, Katz covered community news in the Baltimore and Washington D.C. areas. Connect with him on Twitter at @JustinSKatz.


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