Last month the New York Times announced that Chinese hackers had stolen every employee’s corporate password, and not to be outdone, the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg News then revealed that they’d been targeted as well (though hackers failed to infiltrate Bloomberg News). Now the Washington Post reports that its competitors aren’t all that special. According to a new national intelligence estimate, Chinese hackers have been rifling through the computer systems of a variety of American businesses as part of a massive operation that might be costing the country tens of billions of dollars.
While it appears the hackers were targeting the media companies to keep tabs on their reporting on China, the National Intelligence Estimate found that the larger aim of the larger cyber-espionage campaign is to steal trade secrets and other data that could give China an economic edge. (The report found that Russia, Israel, and France have also pilfered economic intelligence, but not nearly as much). One frequent target is thought to be companies involved in military technology, such as Lockheed Martin.
Some experts think online espionage is costing us as much as $25 billion to $100 billion annually, and the Obama administration is stepping up its efforts to fight the problem. This week, the president is expected to issue an executive order outlining voluntary cyber security standards for important private-sector companies and for the sharing of threat information between the companies and the government. In this regard, the media companies’ recent disclosures can be helpful. The government needs specific evidence of hacking to take action, and when an institution like the Times reveals that it’s been targeted, it might encourage other companies to admit that they failed to prevent hackers from poking around in their computer systems.