WASHINGTON — Amid growing evidence that China and other countries are stealing U.S. trade secrets and technology through cyber attacks, the White House announced what it billed as a new strategy Wednesday to protect intellectual property.
The strategy, which does not focus exclusively on cyber theft, seeks to improve coordination of existing efforts by U.S. intelligence agencies and the State and Justice departments, but it does not include new penalties or sanctions.
Obama last week signed an executive order for the government to share more classified information about cyber threats with U.S. companies that own or operate crucial infrastructure, including dams and energy and telecommunications facilities.
“We know that trade secret theft can cripple a company’s competitive advantage in foreign markets, diminish export prospects around the globe and put American jobs in jeopardy,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday.
The modest steps were announced a day after computer security company Mandiant Corp. in Alexandria, Va., released a report that says a secretive Chinese military unit has stolen digital blueprints, plans, bidding orders and other sensitive data from at least 141 U.S. and Canadian companies over the last six years. Chinese authorities in Beijing denied any involvement and questioned the report’s veracity.
Carney said the United States and other countries need to develop “an understanding of acceptable behavior in cyberspace.”
“We repeatedly, and will continue to, raise our concerns at the highest levels about cyber theft with senior Chinese officials, including in the military,” he said.
Briefing reporters at the White House, Robert Hormats, undersecretary of State for economic growth, called China’s theft of intellectual property “a serious and highly troubling issue.”
The White House distributed a 2011 report by the National Counterintelligence Executive office, titled “Foreign Spies Stealing U.S. Economic Secrets in Cyberspace,” that named China as a “persistent collector” of U.S. corporate secrets.
U.S. intelligence officials said China has mounted a concerted campaign to siphon intellectual property and feed it to state-sponsored industries to save on research-and-development costs.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said the pace of cyber thefts from China has accelerated over the last six months.
“I think we need to confront China on this,” he said. “We need to let China know in no uncertain terms that this is a relationship-altering, continuing offense, and it will have the most serious consequences.
“We need to make it clear that they are seeking an unfair economic advantage in their cyber theft practices, and they are going to have to change those practices.”
Intellectual property also is frequently stolen by human spies, some of whom are caught and prosecuted.