China Hacks U.S. Firms for Financial Information, FireEye Says

  • Hackers seeking information on bid prices, contracts and M&As
  • Theft of intellectual property in decline after 2015 agreement

China is boosting efforts to steal more financial information from U.S. companies, seeking to give domestic enterprises an edge in international deals, computer security firm FireEye Inc. said.

State-controlled Chinese hackers have increased attacks against U.S. companies to obtain information related to bid prices, contracts and mergers and acquisitions, FireEye said in a report Wednesday.

The allegations of financial espionage comes just as trade tensions between the U.S. and China could lead to a full-blown trade war. While the Asian country has denied supporting hacking activities, U.S. security investigators have pointed to evolving threats that originate from the world’s second largest economy. The hacking of trade secrets is happening even as China has made efforts to honor an agreement to rein in the theft of intellectual property.

“Rather than stealing intellectual property and potentially devaluing it, buying the company at a good price may be another way to get access to the intellectual property and maintain the economic value,” said Bryce Boland, chief technology officer for Asia Pacific at FireEye.

China's Buying Spree for U.S. Businesses

Number of M&As targeting U.S. companies

Source: Bloomberg

Note: Deal counts include deals proposed, pending and completed

FireEye didn’t identify victims or provide the number of attacks. Officials at China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs didn’t immediately respond to a faxed request for comment. Last month, ministry spokesman Lu Kang said in a briefing that China opposed all kinds of cyberattacks. “We will continue to implement the important consensus on cybersecurity reached in 2015,” he said.

The 2015 agreement sought to rein in the cybertheft of intellectual property after the White House warned it could impose economic sanctions on Chinese companies and individuals in response to a string of attacks. The Washington summit was seen as a step toward resolving one of the biggest thorns in the relations between the two countries. In 2013 FireEye detected as many as 72 cyberoperations conducted by Chinese hackers.

In 2013, a quarter of American companies surveyed by the American Chamber of Commerce in China said their corporate secrets had been compromised in their Chinese operations, the New York Times reported. An email to the organization seeking comment wasn’t immediately returned.

In October, China renewed its anti-hacking agreement with the U.S. A month later the U.S. charged three Chinese nationals with cyberespionage against Siemens AG, Trimble Inc and Moody’s Analytics, saying they stole sensitive information, including trade secrets.

One Chinese group called APT10 targets technology companies worldwide and uses spear-phishing to infiltrate computers, FireEye said, adding it has seen a surge in espionage targeting cloud services, telecommunications companies and law firms.

“From what we observed, Chinese state actors can gain access to most firms when they need to,” Boland said. “It’s a matter of when they choose to and also whether or not they steal the information that is within the agreement.”

— With assistance by Myungshin Cho, and Peter Martin

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