Cyberspies Invade Silicon Valley

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Fictional super spies like James Bond may have to retire from all the action, sizzle and international intrigue of days past if the recent trend in stealing company secrets through computer hacking in Silicon Valley continues.

Everything from computer chip information, cutting edge military equipment plans, and company trade secrets are being pilfered in a lowkey manner by a variety of hackers, usually initiated by countries competing with the United States in worldwide markets, including allies like France and Israel.

China seems to be the most prominent player in this illegal game due the results of numerous ongoing FBI investigations. These cases have led authorities to shut down a slew of operations setting up in Silicon Valley which were allegedly financed by Beijing venture capital firms linked to the Chinese military and government.

In June 2006, two ritzy Silicon Valley homes were raided by FBI Agents and two engineers, Lan Lee and Yuefei Ge, were arrested on computer espionage charges, which included the charge that they stole copyrighted software from NetLogic Microsystems of Mountain View and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, based out of San Joes, CA.

Economic espionage is an emerging and continual problem for the United States, especially in today’s globally competitive marketplace.

To stay on top of the developing problems in Silicon Valley, the FBI added the San Jose economic espionage and counterintelligence unit in September ’06. It’s sometimes very difficult to weed out the bad guys, though, because they don’t stand out in a crowd. As opposed to being obvious heavy’ types with scowls, leather jackets and questionable citizenship, espionage criminal masterminds are recruiting students, businesspersons, and even employees working within the infrastructures of U.S. companies to get what they want.

If left unchecked by authorities and internal computer security watchdogs, these types of crimes can be potentially dangerous for the U.S. government. Recent pending cases have allegedly involved subjects like nuclear secrets being transferred to the Chinese government.

Surprisingly, money is sometimes not a major motivation for spies committing these espionage crimes. More times than not, it’s someone’s loyalty to a cause or a nation’ that inspires them to steal information for a foreign government. Authorities, however, are quick to point out that money is a factor behind the scenes, more than likely.’

“America’s being robbed blind. … We simply don’t want to believe it,” said John Tkacik Jr., of the conservative operation Heritage Foundation, who headed China intelligence analysis at the State Department in the early ’90s.

Naturally, the Chinese government denies its part in all computer espionage cases, downplaying it to a “few overzealous radicals” when they’re caught.

It’s interesting to note that despite the seriousness of these thefts, the economic espionage units usually end up charging alleged perpetrators with a lighter charge of trade secret thefts’ as opposed to heavier espionage charges. In the meantime, most corporations that are victimized by such crimes handle the problem internally and don’t end up prosecuting perpetrators to the full extent of the law, fearing that bad publicity and tumbling public stock prices will hurt them far more than what has already been stolen by spies.


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Tim Ritter is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business.

Cyberspies Invade Silicon Valley
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