China “Economic espionage“ tops US cybersecurity threats, says CSIS Jim Lewis

Here's a little trivia for you: Who's done more to shape cyberspace over the past few decades?

Answer: The Grateful Dead. The band's old lyricist, John Perry Barlow, to be exact.

Back in the 1996, Barlow penned “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace,“ in which he argued the internet didn't need laws; it could sort itself out with social contracts.

Fast-forward to 2010 “” that laissez faire approach has cost the United States big time, especially when it comes to protecting US intellectual property from countries such as China, says Jim Lewis, CSIS research fellow and lead on a key report from this past year, Securing Cyberspace for the 44th Presidency.

The United States, says Lewis, can no longer count on market forces to reign in cyberspace abuses, no matter what advocates like Barlow “” and even Lewis, back in 1996 “” once counted on.

“No company is safe “¦ some problems only the government can fix,“ says Lewis.

China’s “economic espionage”

Jim LewisThe rise of China reads a lot like the tortoise and the hare, says Lewis (right), in a talk yesterday before Potomac Officers Club. Nearly 20 years after the country said it would invest more in technology and human capital, it's jumped to global economic powerhouse. Its investment in human capital is one reason why. A bigger reason is its activities in what Lewis calls “economic espionage.“ That activity represents a more clear and present danger than any potential cyber threat from terrorists, he adds.

Having a cyber coordinator is a step forward in staving off the threat. But it's not enough. Cyberspace needs something on the order of NORAD, a consolidated defense network, overseen by government. Anything less is “crazy,“ says Lewis. Especially given the urgency.

China's cyber theft activities date back to 1998. But it's not just China the United States has to worry about, adds Lewis. Russia, too, serves as a haven for cyber proxies “” a situation that's been escalating since 1984. The United States, meanwhile, has been asleep at the wheel.

While an “underappreciated problem,“ the tide is finally turning. “It's been a good year “¦ a lot of progress is being made,“ says Lewis. He points to legislative and executive strides: Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's January “Internet freedom“ speech; the Rockefeller-Snowe Cybersecurity Bill; the International Cybercrime Reporting and Cooperation Act, introduced by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah; and new protective cybersecurity legislation co-sponsored by Joe Lieberman (ID-Connecticut) and Susan Collins (R-Maine).

Greater international engagement needed

Cybersecurity isn't just a domestic issue. Which means greater international engagement, even with “” especially with “” current adversaries is essential. “They have hackers, too,“ says Lewis. Also essential is greater engagement  with the United Nations and G-20 on ways to foster a more secure global infrastructure.

Because, ultimately something greater than “economic espionage“ is at stake, says Lewis. While current cyber adversaries may not aim to bring down whole infrastructures “” but rather profit from them “” the same can't be said for Hezbollah or al-Qaeda down the line.

For more details on Lewis' talk, additional coverage here.

Full video here.

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