American think tanks hit in wide-scale cyber-espionage push

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American think tanks are becoming a big intelligence target for hackers from China and other countries, according to Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), chairman of the US House Intelligence Committee.

He told USA Today that it amounts to a "furious wave of cyber-espionage" targeted against government-related infrastructure as the attackers attempt to gain information on everything from “policy deliberations and pending litigation to national defense and private product development.”

The scale of the effort could only be labeled ‘intensive’.

“Most major organizations have been infiltrated", Shawn Henry, the FBI’s former top cybersecurity official, told USA Today. “The value of data is such that it just makes sense for our adversaries to get involved. There are dozens of countries involved, not just China.”

That may be, but the think tanks themselves are being cagey when it comes to confirming the situation. Case in point is the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning organization. “While we don’t comment on any specific incidents, we are continually vigilant about our security and are regularly targeted in cyberattacks that originate both inside and outside the U.S.,” Andrea Purse, the think tank’s vice president of communications, told the Washington Post.

Meanwhile Mike Gonzalez, spokesman for the conservative Heritage Foundation, told the Washington Post that his organization had fended off an attack from China without confirming when. However, “it was not 10 years ago” he said. “We dealt with it when we had it, quickly and efficiently,” Gonzalez said.

Henry noted that overall cyberattack complaints reported to US authorities were increasing by 20% annually.

Given think tanks’ status as key linchpins between academia, government agencies, members of Congress, the White House and private enterprise, and the fact that they are often tasked with working on defense issues or other areas that may require high-level security clearance, they become highly prized targets.

"These organizations aggregate very valuable data, and that's exactly the kind of information that Chinese intelligence services are looking for," Henry said. "Over the past two years, attacks have increased at a substantial rate." 


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