Foreign spies are in our country for many bad reasons. Spies target defense secrets and seek to penetrate the decision-making process of our government leaders. They also gain unauthorized access to information held by our nation’s corporations. In this time of serious economic crisis this aspect of the threat from foreign spies is particularly troublesome. Spies contribute to the problem’s we face in the economy.
Today one of the most damaging things spies do is steal the trade secrets and intellectual property of our corporations and research labs. The intellectual property they steal is moved overseas where other countries (and companies inside those countries) can benefit from the investments we make in research and development. This hurts our economy in many ways. It causes the value of our research and development to be significantly sub-optimized. It hurts the ability of our companies to compete in the global market place. It causes more jobs to go overseas. It can threaten the survival of companies which of course hurts both investors and employees. This is all bad for the economy. And its all WRONG! Our country needs to invest enough in our counterintelligence capabilities to find foreign spies and get them out of here.
A particularly insidious threat is one where a country might couple the power of spies in our borders with cyber attacks and cyber espionage to extract information from companies while at the same time monitoring the response to those attacks. Humans can enable cyber attacks in many ways that make them far more damaging. In fact the most feared type of data theft if one where a trusted insider moves data. With modern high capacity thumb drives large quantities of data can be moved in moments.
I just read an article by an authoritative source on this topic, Michelle Van Cleave. Michelle served as the head of U.S. counterintelligence from July 2003 through March 2006 and was in a position to observe firsthand some of the damage being done by foreign spies. The article outlines examples and gives a firsthand account of some of the challenges we face in this area. It concludes with:
How important is all of this, really? Cynics will scoff and say, “There
will always be spies.” But I have read the file drawers full of damage
assessments; I have catalogued the enormous losses in lives, treasure
and crucial secrets that foreign intelligence work has caused. The
memory of what’s in those files — and the thought of the people and
the operations still in harm’s way — can keep me awake at night.
So we have to choose. We can handle these threats piecemeal, or we
can pull together a strategic program — one team, one plan, one goal
— to reduce the overall danger. We can chase individual spies case by
case, or we can target the services that send them here. The next
devastating spy case is just around the bend. I fear that when it
comes, we will all ask ourselves why we didn’t stop it. I suspect I
already know the answer.
I recommend this article to all, especially enterprise technologists. If you are a CTO, a CISO, a CISO it is especially important for you to understand the nature of the threat to your systems and to your intellectual property. If you are a citizen it is important for you to know as well. We must collectively address this challenge to our intellectual property and to our economic recovery.
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