back to article FBI boss: Never mind Russia and social media, China ransacks US biz for blueprints, secrets at 'surprisingly' huge scale

While Russian hackers, Kremlin-backed or otherwise, grab the headlines, China remains the biggest cyber-security threat to America, FBI director Christopher Wray warned today. Speaking at the RSA Conference in San Francisco this morning, Wray said the scale of Beijing's government-orchestrated online espionage is greater than …

  1. DougS Silver badge

    He may not think that end state is "sustainable"

    But he has no choice. Even if the US passed draconian laws requiring key escrow, nothing stops terrorists from using software designed in other countries that aren't subject to those laws. If they made Google & Apple ban those apps, terrorists would sideload/jailbreak, or run Google free versions of Android that Google can't handicap.

    The FBI is going to have to learn to deal with terrorists having unbreakable encryption, that's the reality and nothing is going to change it.

    1. sbt

      Re: He may not think that end state is "sustainable"

      True. TPTB want you to forget that the time period in which it's been possible for them to monitor your private communications is incredibly short in historic terms; an abberation due in large part to the primitive nature and "wild west" development of telecommunications from the telegraph down (a century or so). Mass surveillance even shorter (a decade or two). It's not and should not be the norm.

      Considering the actual risk from terrorists, vs. all the other crimes that are committed, you know the proponent is being disingenious when they use the "need this law/power/technology to stop terrorists" argument. At least use a real problem like domestic violence or something.

  2. veti Silver badge

    A side effect of the US hardening defences against Russia

    Some of those Russians have turned their attention back to the UK. Want to make sure Brexit goes through, after all.

    Have you seen any posts or emails from someone who claims they've "just been reading the Lisbon treaty", lately?

    1. John McCallum

      Re: A side effect of the US hardening defences against Russia

      Re Lisbon Treaty no I have not and if I do get one I'll know they are telling porkies.

  3. Mark 85 Silver badge

    Russian hacking caught the attention of the new media so they're still the very bad lads who possibly impacted an election. China hasn't really been brought up yet in the mainstream by comparison. Election interference is an issue in the US and a currently a big one do to.... politics. China's hacking won't get any serous news unless they somehow get the attention of the Congress which is more self focused on politics than anything else it would seem. Takeaway: China's spying won't sell newspapers but Russian hacking will for the foreseeable future even though it's a bigger operation and potentially more damaging than tampering with an election.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It was obvious to anyone with a brain that China is a much greater geopolitical threat than Russia

    A cursory examination of the respective GDPs of both nations could tell you this.

    The current wave of Russian hysteria originates from the elites losing control of the narrative to populist forces, on either side of the Atlantic.

  5. Kev99 Bronze badge

    Sell, DUH! With every manufacturer in the US offshoring to China it's a friggin' buffet for the Chinese.

  6. ysth

    So he's different than his predecessor

    But saying all the same things. For strong crypto as long as it isn't secure. Sure that people can just Nerd Harder and find the impossible solution.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Funny that..

    .. I get a lot of dictionary attacks from US based IP addresses - more than from Chinese ones.

    I'm glad someone appears to see sense re mandatory backdoors. Yes, I said "appears" because I don't trust them to suddenly abandon that unicorn, but if you ever need any help telling someone it's a bad idea, make them look up "TSA keys". Be warned, the guys in the land of the barbie did not get it. Monumentally stupid, because there's no way I can now use any software from there as I have a GDPR to comply with...

    1. DougS Silver badge

      Re: Funny that..

      You can't go by the source IP to determine where the threat actually originates, especially for state sponsored attacks.

  8. Milton Silver badge

    3.1415926535897932384626433..

    "There may well be a way to combine strong encryption and lawful intercepts he said, if people are willing to put their heads together."

    In the late Victorian era an assumption began to be widely credited and shared, that future leaders would be drawn from among scientists. After all, they are the smartest people, they're trained to establish evidence-based facts, to apply logic and rationality in understanding cause and effect, and are demonstrably the best problem-solvers our species can offer. Plus, they tend to be, if not apolitical, at least aware that cold hard objective fact trumps wishful thinking and political bullshit every single time. You can vote to make π = 3.000 as many time as you like and π won't change for you.

    Unfortunately for the human race, scientists recoil with disgust from politics, especially from the early 21st-century strains of politician which have evolved like particularly noxious spirochaetes: there is nothing to like, admire or emulate in creatures which now embody the worst of human vices—people who appear almost to revel in their cowaridce, hypocrisy, mendacity and wilful ignorance. Just look at the bloviating liars and spineless lice busy destroying Britain, or the US GOP, unable to bend over backwards far enough in its invertebrate deceit to protect the worst human being ever to soil the White House. So low has western politics sunk—and no, I haven't much good to report about the state of the "left" either, which also seems largely bought and paid for by corporate money.

    So the Christopher Wray, and his wish to "... combine strong encryption and lawful intercepts ... if people are willing to put their heads together"—because despite all the soothing words, he shows that he simply does not get it. And presumably, lacking a math degree, he never will. The politicians who appointed him are not scientists, do not even resemble scientists—indeed, in many respects are the complete opposite of objective seekers-after-truth—so they are neither willing nor capable of comprehension of this issue. We are "led" by ignorant fools, who, even when they employ less ignorant and less foolish people, control their budgets, goals, procedures and to large extent, public statements.

    So Mr Wray ultimately comes back to spouting dumb, impossible stuff. He has to say he wants π to be 3.000, but no matter how many "people are willing to put their heads together", it'll continue obstinately and forever to remain an objective unchanged fact.

    Even if every public cryptosystem were crippled with a backdoor which miraculously remained a secret, the real villains will simply use an uncrippled one. The options are almost limitless, and the use of advanced steganography in a world where 2,000,000,000 data-heavy images are shared every day, makes reading or even finding competently-encrypted messages an utterly futile effort.

    If you want to spy on the innocent, or the lame-arsed, trivial, incompetent small fry, you may find some meagre success for the trillions of dollars you spend. But the real Black Hats' conversations will remain forever secure. π still won't be 3.000.

    1. DCFusor Silver badge

      Re: 3.1415926535897932384626433..

      Agree - except for your partisan political statements, which indicate that either you are very young and naive, or have fallen prey to that which you complain about.

      Which isn't unlikely. It's so common that even psychologists (who aren't really one of the hard sciences by the Heinlein definition) have coined the word "projection" to identify the issue.

      Pay attention, the long slide downhill due to letting people who want power, have it, began quite some time ago. Making people work to get into power just selects for the worst.

    2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: 3.1415926535897932384626433..

      Unfortunately for the human race, scientists recoil with disgust from politics

      Oh, please.

      It's quite common for scientists to run for political office in some countries - Germany, Singapore, and China, for example. And it's hardly unknown in most industrialized democracies. Margaret Thatcher had a chemistry degree. Herbert Hoover was an engineer.

      The relative scarcity of scientists in many political contests could have any number of explanations. "Recoil[ing] with disgust" is a rather far-fetched one. Care to provide any evidence to support it?

      Nor are scientists in government a panacea.

      After the 2015 elections in the UK, there were 26 MPs with science degrees. Remember all the great scientifically-inspired legislation they proposed? Neither do I.

      The 2018 US midterm elections brought us to a whopping 18 "scientists" (for some definition thereof) to Congress. I haven't heard a lot of agitating for evidence-based policy or scientific methodologies from them since January.

      Scientists are very capable of being wildly, irrationally, fixedly wrong about things - important things. Take Linus Pauling's obsession with megavitamin therapy, for example. James Watson's racism. Freeman Dyson's metaphysics and global-warming denialism (which he admits has little or nothing to do with actual science, but is based purely on a visceral reaction). Michio Kaku is a loon when the subject of nuclear fission power comes up, and he's kind of wacky on UFOs, too. Want an example of an actual politician with real scientific credentials but patently stupid behavior in office? I give you Ben Carson.

      Scientists, particularly the attention-seeking sort who are likely to find political life amenable, seem to be prone to ultracrepidarianism. Perhaps not moreso than the typical politician, but they often seem capable of a peculiar sort of double-consciousness, in which they believe they're still applying the protocols of scientific epistemology, and so they can appeal to its authority, but in fact they're abandoning not only scientific method but for the most part rational thinking, when they step outside their field of expertise.

      It's certainly possible that democratically-appointed republics like the US and UK would, on the whole, do better if their legislatures and other elected offices were occupied primarily by technocrats who were trained in scientific methods and who insisted on applying those methods as much as was feasible, and who also acknowledged the limits of their own expertise. Good luck finding a candidate pool matching that description, much less getting them elected.

  9. Milton Silver badge

    Russia shouts; China whispers

    Russia makes a lot of noise because it is actually quite weak. Its economy is in bad shape, not least because it's a kleptocracy crippled by the wholesale theft of assets by KGB thugs and their fellow criminals after the fall of the wall, and also because it spends proportionately far too much on weaponry, plus it is badly affected by western sanctions imposed for serious criminality. (For one thing, nerve agent attacks on foreign soil are far beyond acceptable behaviour.) Plus little Vlad The Emailer, riding the tiger, knows that when he falls or is pushed off he won't survive a day, is therefore desperate to maintain his position, which he thinks he can do by childish shirtless stunts and lots of chest-beating. Russia shouts because it is just not that powerful.

    China, on the other hand, quietly builds upon its enormous economic strength. Although Xi has made some bad mistakes in accelerating his military adventurism, on the whole China continues to whisper and do diplomacy while becoming stronger every day. NSA and GCHQ and the other Five Eyes operators have been so busy spying on my browsing habits—are you bored to death yet?—that they have, in their largely pointless attempts at active espionage, scandalously neglected the 'counter-' part of their mission. While Five Eyes were eavesdropping on the cellphones of allied leaders, Russia conspired with the мокрые дела Candidate to secure the US Presidency, China stole the entire F-35 dataset from Lockheed and little Vlad, fresh from invading the Crimea, got a head start in buggering up Europe (with, admittedly, ample help from the British Conservatives' circus of Useful Idiots).

    It worries me to agree with that loathsome ambulatory compost heap, Steve Bannon, about anything: but he is almost certainly correct that unless China changes its ways, which includes the seemingly impossible feat of regime change and a move to democracy, sooner or later it will have to be cut down to size.

    Russia, ultimately, cannot win because its economy is a kleptocracy and a ruinously badly managed mess besides. China, ultimately, cannot lose because its economy is colossal and growing. Unless we actually want its murderous, repressive regime to enslave the world in a new Dark Ages, China must be stopped. If regime change through trade pressure doesn't work—and there's no sign of it, especially under this hopelessly incompetent White House—the answer will ultimately be military.

    The consequences of war with China in the next five years are horrifying. The consequences of waiting ten or 20 years are much, much worse. And the consequences of doing nothing at all are the extinction of human freedom: everywhere.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @Re: Russia shouts; China whispers

      I suggest you should get some rest. No, really! Have a down vote for your "intriguing" analysis.

      This is from someone who has spend half of his life under one of those communist regimes and the rest under a democratic freedom loving (so they call themselves) regime.

  10. Tikimon Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Fallacy detector - swap a term or two...

    "It's a public safety issue. We are a very strong believer in door locks and curtains on windows, but we are duty bound to protect American people. This can't be a sustainable end state, an unfettered space for terrorists and spies to hide their communications."

    The same arguments given for why encryption is bad ALSO apply to door locks and curtains in our homes. It's illegal for cops to stand outside your house and look inside, or to simply walk in and poke around whenever they feel like it. To do so requires a SEARCH WARRANT, signed by a judge who determines if there's sufficient cause to violate someone's rights.

    Those same protections ALREADY apply to our digital lives, no matter how hard the pigs try to pretend they don't. The New Western Stasi do NOT need to spy more, instead they should be totally stopped until they obtain a specific warrant for specific information. There's a reason these protections were written into the Constitution, because our founders knew that governments can't be trusted.

  11. ianmcca

    Wholesale theft of western secrets?

    If China were engaged in wholesale theft of western trade secrets, there would surely be a market place for the stolen information, surely we (the west) would have detected that and I can see no reason why making public that we have detected it would not be in our interests.

    Which does suggest this is suspicion and hype rather than fact. I'm as scared of China as anyone, but not really for this reason.

  12. DerekCurrie Bronze badge
    Devil

    This has been going on since 1998...

    ... The year the President Clinton gave China 'Most Favored Nation' status, the year China formed The Red Hacker Alliance so they could hack the world for both government secrets AND intellectual property.

    So let's get all touchy about criticizing Huawei and stopping them from selling us all back-doored 5G hardware. I don't think so.

    So why does China: Criminal Nation have to rip off IP around the world? It's because the nature of Marxism, Maoism, Communism is to wreck personal incentive. If everything belongs to everyone, why care about inventing anything? And nobody does. Therefore, typical of totalitarian states, they have to steal it in order to keep up with the rest of the world. But can they forge ahead beyond the rest of the world? NO. And after the rest of the world gets sick of being ripped off and gives up on making anything new because they know its only going to get ripped off, the result is:

    Worldwide STAGNATION.

    That's why China is a Criminal Nation and it is entirely smart to stop feeding it our $money$.

    As for the citizens of China: Overthrow your lunatic government and get back to inventing things again, instead of ripping off everyone else. I do my best to buy inventive gear from China! And I'll continue to do so.

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