Has Snowden affair given China carte blanche to continue industrial espionage?

News reports in the general media alleging that Edward Snowden's revelations about spying on China have damaged the U.S.'s credibility in terms of its complaints about Chinese cyber espionage miss the point. Like other nations, the U.S. spies on the activies of other governments. But the Chinese government allegedly spies on American businesses in an attempt to steal intellectual property so that its own businesses can profit.

Richard Bejtlich is the chief security officer at Mandiant Corp., which released a much publicized report on how China is waging a war of industrial espionage earlier this year and spoke with me last year about the new rules of the game. Here's what he said:

"When I was wearing the uniform and saw foreign governments trying to get into [government systems] I wasn’t outraged because that’s the way the game is played. But for the last 10 years the Chinese and the Russians have prosecuted this widespread campaign against illegitimate targets. Starting in about 2003 they expanded into the defense industrial base. Then they started targeting financials and then big pharma, and all of these targets that traditionally had nothing to do with espionage. That’s something that the US does not do back. We do plenty against legitimate targets, such foreign governments, but you’d never see the U.S. government stealing pharma data to give to a US firm."

So far, nothing Snowden has released would indicate that the U.S. government is stealing intellectual property from, say Huawei, and giving it to Cisco Systems. Nonetheless, it would seem that the revelations have set back any opportunity America may have had to address those issues, at least in the short term.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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