China Is Top Cyberthreat To The U.S.

The United States has been under a sustained attack by China for the last five years.

According to a new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), China is involved in a gigantic cyber-espionage campaign against U.S. companies and institutions. The country's state-sponsored hackers reportedly have stolen data from a number of various commercial sectors and used that information for its own economic gain.

The intelligence assessment comes courtesy of the Washington Post, who obtained the information through unidentified sources. The NIE is a classified document unavailable to the public; even high-level officials have had their access restricted.

"We need the NIE on cyber for a systematic and comprehensive understanding of what the most dangerous technologies are, who are the most threatening actors and what are our greatest vulnerabilities," said former deputy defense secretary William J. Lynn III. He suggested drafting such a report back in 2011 but has yet to be briefed on its findings.

The NIE found that over the last five years, China has hacked organizations involved in energy, aerospace, finance, automotives and information technology. According to some experts, these hacks may have cost the U.S. economy anywhere between $25 billion and $100 billion.

For its part, China has adamantly denied any role in cyber-espionage acts against the United States.

The assessment also reported that in addition to China, America has been attacked by hackers from Russia, Israel and France.

In January, the Pentagon announced plans to boost its cyber security team by 4,000 members. The Cyber Command division will not only train new personnel in defensive capabilities, but also form Combat Mission Forces that will allow the U.S. to launch cyber strikes against potential threats from overseas.

Additionally, a classified legal review recently granted the President the ability to order pre-emptive cyber attacks should the government conclude that international actors are preparing to stage an attack on the United States.

These new directives, in addition to the conclusion of the NIE, underscore U.S. efforts to bolster its cyber security. Hackers have targeted the Justice Department Web sites, e-mail accounts belonging to former presidents and media institutions like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. Seemingly caught flat-footed, the government is trying to right itself and react in a substantial manner.

"The problem with foreign cyber-­espionage is not that it is an existential threat, but that it is invisible, and invisibility promotes inaction," said a former government official. If the NIE is able to quantify the threat, it will help spur the government into action.

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