Hackers Pose Threat to Business, U.S. Official Warns

A top U.S. Justice Department official warned corporate leaders today that they need to aggressively confront the dangers posed by hackers trying to swipe their secrets.

“The threat is real, it is here, and it is not going away,” John Carlin, assistant U.S. attorney general for national security, said before a roundtable of business leaders at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. “The list of threats out there is significant and it is expanding.”

Carlin’s appearance before about 100 people at an event organized by the Pittsburgh Technology Council, a regional trade group representing 1,400 companies, underscored the importance the Justice Department has placed on combating cybercrime and cyber-espionage, especially in the country’s industrial heartland.

In May, the Justice Department unsealed an indictment charging five Chinese military officials with stealing trade secrets from six companies and a trade union. Four of the companies, including U.S. Steel Corp. and nuclear power equipment-maker Westinghouse Electric Co., have their headquarters in the Pittsburgh area.

The thefts harmed “American competitiveness by stealing what we worked so hard to build,” Carlin said.

In June, FBI agents, private security experts and university researchers -- many assigned to offices in Pittsburgh -- dismantled a hacking ring responsible for stealing more than $100 million from consumers and financial institutions.

Cooperation Urged

Earlier today, Carlin and FBI Director James Comey toured the National Cyber-Forensics and Training Alliance, a nonprofit group based in Pittsburgh that assists collaboration between government officials, academic researchers and companies to combat computer threats.

In response to question from a member of the audience, Carlin said such cooperation “is a model that is proven to work.”

Such teamwork is necessary to stop hackers, particularly those supported by foreign spy services, Carlin said, because “there is no company inside the United States that can defensively stand up against the full resources of a determined nation state.”

Carlin said he “could not agree more” with an assessment released last week by the 9/11 Commission on the 10th anniversary of its original report that detailed what transpired before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

“We are at September 10th levels in terms of cyber preparedness,” the commission reported, adding that U.S. “companies’ most-sensitive and patented technologies and intellectual property, U.S. universities’ research and development, and the nation’s defense capabilities and critical infrastructure, are all under cyber attack.”

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