Chinese intelligence engages in industrial spying in Europe

Published 12 November 2007

China may be slowly integrating into the global economy, but its massive disregard of intellectual property laws shows that it has yet to internalize important norms of market conduct; and now this: Chinese intelligence is using its considerable assets to engage in industrial spying on behalf of Chinese companies

Germany may not be über alles, but it is a land of many ideas and innovations. Now the Germans are finding out that it is not only business competitors who may try to gain secret access to German expertise, but it is also foreign intelligence services that are spying on German companies. Duetche Welle reports that whether it is research results, strategies for development, product information, client data or budget plans — business secrets of successful companies are increasingly becoming coveted by industrious spies. The spies, said Elmar Remberg, deputy chief of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (Germany’s domestic intelligence agency), come from the former republics of the Soviet Union — but primarily (you guessed) from China. “China is intensively collecting information around the world — political, military and scientific data, and company strategies in order close the gap in their technology developments as quickly as possible,” Remberg said. Current studies show that around 40 percent of German companies fall prey to industrial espionage. Furthermore, expertise worth up to $74 billion is at risk, according to the studies. The target of the espionage are primarily nano and armament technologies, as well as that involving transportation, environment, and energy.

According to the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Chinese case officers go undercover and work as journalists and diplomats in Germany, or visit trade fairs and companies with delegations. Internet-based assaults from outside are also increasing. Recent reports that attacks on German government computers came from China have been confirmed, said Remberg. “Since 2005, we have been finding such e-mail-based electronic attacks on German government offices and companies,” Remberg said. “These are pursued with incredible intensity; currently, an attack is detected every one to two days.” E-mails can contain spy programs that automatically install themselves without the user noticing. Collected information is then sent back over the Internet. Often, the programs are so well-made, that even specialists cannot detect them. Experts say that there is no way to protect against industrial espionage one hundred percent. They recommend that companies have a good IT security plan and stress that managers of companies must be more aware of the dangers. Employees must also be trained, even if they are trusted.