‘If you’re an American adult, it’s likely that China has stolen your personal data’: FBI director

FBI Director Christopher Wray testifies that China has most likely stolen the personal data of nearly every adult in America during a House hearing on homeland security on Thursday.

The FBI is opening a new counterintelligence investigation into China every 10 hours, and out of the 5,000 open investigations, nearly half are related to China, according to testimony submitted to the House Committee on Homeland Security by FBI Director Wray on Thursday.

FBI Director Christopher Wray

“If you are an American adult, it is more likely than not that China has stolen your personal data” — FBI Director Christopher Wray

“The greatest long-term threat to our nation’s information and intellectual property, and to our economic vitality, is the counterintelligence and economic espionage threat from China. It is a threat to our economic security and by extension, to our national security,” Wray testified.

He added that the American people are the real victims of Chinese theft, which is “on a scale so massive that it represents one of the largest transfers of wealth in human history.”

“If you are an American adult, it is more likely than not that China has stolen your personal data,” Wray testified.

The FBI director told lawmakers that China was targeting America’s “core economic assets,” such as technology, information, ideas, innovation, and research and development.

“At this very moment, China is working to compromise American health care organizations, pharmaceutical companies, and academic institutions conducting essential COVID-19 research,” Wray submitted in his testimony.

“They are going after cost and pricing information, internal strategy documents, personally identifiable information — anything that can give them a competitive advantage,” the FBI director added.

In February, 2020, the Department of Justice indicted four Chinese military hackers for the Equifax breach in 2017, where nearly 150 million Americans’ personal information such as their names, birth dates, and social security numbers were compromised.

US Attorney General William Barr called the hack “brazen criminal heist of sensitive information of nearly half of all Americans.”

“The greatest long-term threat to our nation’s information and intellectual property, and to our economic vitality, is the counterintelligence and economic espionage threat from China” — FBI Director Christopher Wray

Last November, William Carter, Deputy Director and Fellow at Center for Strategic and International Studies, testified before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism  that “China’s intelligence services have access to an incredibly rich database on the behavior, preferences, and vulnerabilities of hundreds of millions of Americans.”

According to the intelligence community, the US is losing critical technology to China in several ways through both legal and illegal means:

  • Straight-up Hacking: Chinese government hackers have engaged in a prolonged campaign in recent years to build a massive database on American citizens for intelligence and counter-intelligence purposes.
    • By exfiltrating data from the US Government (USG) Office of Personnel Management (OPM), health insurers (e.g. Anthem), airlines (e.g. United) and hotel chains (e.g. Marriott), among others, China’s intelligence services have access to an incredibly rich database on the behavior, preferences, and vulnerabilities of hundreds of millions of Americans.
  • Acquiring Foreign Companies and Harvesting Their Data: When a Chinese company buys an American company, it gets all the technology the American company owns, including defense capabilities.
  • Any Company Operating in China Must Surrender its Data: By law any company operating in China will have to hand over its data to the Communist government. The Chinese government will have lawful and technical access to all digital data within its borders and perhaps to large volumes of data beyond its borders.
  • Infiltrating Universities and Research Centers: China has over 200 recruitment programs in which the Chinese government offers lucrative financial and research benefits to recruit individuals working and studying outside of China who possess access to, or expertise in, high-priority research fields.
    • All programs are overseen by the Chinese government and are designed to support its goals, sometimes at US taxpayers’ expense, according to the FBI.

On September 1, the Pentagon released its 2020 report on “Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China [PRC].”

The report highlighted that China’s Military-Civilian Fusion (MCF) strategy makes no distinction “between the PRC’s civilian and military economies, raising due diligence costs for US and global entities that do not desire to contribute to the PRC’s military modernization.”

The Pentagon reported that China obtains foreign technology through:

  • Foreign direct investment
  • Overseas acquisitions
  • Legal technology imports
  • The establishment of foreign research and development centers
  • Joint ventures
  • Research and academic partnerships
  • Talent recruitment
  • Industrial and cyber espionage and theft

According to the Pentagon, “The PRC leverages foreign investments, commercial joint ventures, mergers and acquisitions, and state-sponsored industrial and technical espionage, and the manipulation of export controls for the illicit diversion of dual-use technologies to increase the level of technologies and expertise available to support military research, development, and acquisition.”

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China’s Equifax hack a ‘brazen criminal heist of nearly half of all Americans’ sensitive information’: AG Barr

Tim Hinchliffe: Tim Hinchliffe is the editor of The Sociable. His passions include writing about how technology impacts society and the parallels between Artificial Intelligence and Mythology. Previously, he was a reporter for the Ghanaian Chronicle in West Africa and an editor at Colombia Reports in South America. tim@sociable.co