Cyber Espionage is the Real Problem

Jim Lewis of CSIS

Dr. Jim Lewis sees the issue of economic cyber espionage as the greatest threat the United States currently faces in cyberspace. “The real problem is economic espionage,” Lewis said today at an event hosted by the Potomac Officers Club.

Lewis is one of the premier experts in cybersecurity. He led the CSIS Commission on Securing Cyberspace for the 44th Presidency and has given testimony before Congress.

“His involvement goes so much farther than that,” said Lt. Gen. Harry Raduege. “He has been the executive director of more than 50 of our nation’s top cyber experts.”

Lewis discussed the concerns and challenges currently facing the U.S. in the field of cybersecurity. “We face real opponents in cyberspace. One of the things that constantly draws attention to this topic is other people doing bad things to the United States,” he said. “We’ve woken up as a nation to the fact that we depend on these technologies…but they are exceptionally vulnerable.”

While many other nations and non-state actors rely on the Internet, “They are not as vulnerable as we are,” Lewis said.

The major cyber players currently probing U.S. networks are the Chinese and Russians. According to Lewis, both are actively fostering and facilitating cyber criminals and serve as cyber crime havens.

The advantage for the states using cyber criminals is that it provides a level of deniability. “You get implausible deniability and a new tool for the exercise of state power,” Lewis said.

Despite all the hype surrounding the issue of cyber terrorism and cyber warfare, Lewis is relatively unconcerned. “I don’t worry about cyber terrorism,” he said. “If they had the capability, did you think they would wait to use it?”

“Right now they benefit so much from access to the Internet,” Lewis said. “The threat we face is not cyber war either.”

The greatest threat instead is from cyber crime and cyber espionage.

“The degree of theft of intellectual property is amazing,” Lewis said. “This is a pervasive problem throughout the U.S.”

While it remains unclear to Lewis why the Russians continue to steal U.S. intellectual property, cyber espionage has become a core portion of Chinese economic development.

“For the Chinese this is an important part of their economic growth,” Lewis said.

In order to effectively combat the growing levels of cyber crime and cyber espionage, the problem needs to be approached from an international angle.

“We’ve approached this as a domestic problem…but if the primary problem is economic espionage…we need to think about international engagement,” Lewis said. “We are going to have to talk to the Chinese and the Russians.”

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