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FBI: Global economic slowdown exacerbated cyber espionage

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The global economic slowdown has exacerbated foreign theft of U.S. companies' intellectual property, a FBI official said June 28 before a House panel.

During the current fiscal year (which ends Sept. 30), economic espionage has already cost the American economy more than $13 billion, said Frank Figliuzzi, FBI assistant director, counterintelligence division. He spoke before the House Homeland Security subcommittee on counterterrorism and intelligence.

"Foreign nations know that it's always cheaper to steal U.S. technology than it is to research and develop it themselves," Figliuzzi said.

The Commerce Department estimates that intellectual property-intensive industries directly accounted for 27.1 million American jobs in 2010, or 18.8 percent of all employment. Theft of industry secrets via state-sponsored hacking has increasingly become a concern of U.S. and other governments. Only a day before the hearing, Jonathan Evans, director general of the U.K. domestic intelligence agency MI5 decried "industrial scale" cyber espionage seeking to steal commercial sensitive information.

Economic espionage is hardly new, noted Greg Wilshusen, Government Accountability Office director of information security issues, but "use of cyberspace have vastly enhanced the reach and potential impact of such threats," he said.

Russia and China typically get cited as the main perpetrators of this newest wave of cyber theft, but Figliuzzi said culprits include "in some cases some of our allies."

For more:
- go to the hearing page (includes prepared testimony and archived webcast)

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