China's persistent cyber espionage activities, highlighted in both the 2020 and 2024 DHS threat assessments, underscore the critical need for enhanced cybersecurity measures and vigilance to protect sensitive US information and technology across vital sectors.
The 2024 Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Intelligence Enterprise Homeland Threat Assessment has highlighted critical concerns regarding foreign adversaries, with a particular focus on the People's Republic of China (PRC).
This assessment builds upon the 2020 assessment that stated, “China already poses a high cyber espionage threat to the Homeland and Beijing’s cyber-attack capabilities will grow.”
The 2020 document also stated, “Chinese cyber actors almost certainly will continue to engage in wide-ranging cyber espionage to steal intellectual property and personally identifiable information (PII) from U.S. businesses and government agencies to bolster their civil-military industrial development, gain an economic advantage, and support intelligence operations. China possesses an increasing ability to threaten and potentially disrupt U.S. critical infrastructure.”
The 2024 threat assessment underlines the ongoing efforts of foreign entities, primarily the PRC, in targeting and stealing sensitive US information, research, and technology. This threat poses significant risks to American competitiveness, economic stability, and national security.
We expect China’s cyber operations against U.S. companies to focus on the critical manufacturing, defense industrial base, energy, healthcare, and transportation sectors.
- 2024 DHS Threat Assessment
Intellectual Property Theft and Forced Technology Transfer
Foreign adversaries, especially the PRC, have shown a persistent intent to exploit various avenues to gain access to valuable US information. This includes leveraging students, researchers, and commercial entities as cover for their operations. By infiltrating academic and commercial spaces, adversaries seek to obtain cutting-edge technology and research, which could be potentially detrimental to US interests.
One of the most concerning aspects of this threat is the ongoing intellectual property theft and forced technology transfer. The PRC employs opaque administrative licensing processes, leveraging them to coerce technology transfers in exchange for necessary business approvals. This practice not only disadvantages US businesses but also stifles global innovation by depriving American enterprises of the fruits of their intellectual labor.
Economic Espionage through Cyber Intrusions
The 2024 assessment underscores the pervasive threat of economic espionage, predominantly executed through cyber intrusions. These cyberattacks target confidential US business information, including trade secrets, technical data, and other proprietary information.
Similarly, economic espionage—largely through cyber intrusions that target confidential US business information, including trade secrets, technical data, and other proprietary information—costs US industries hundreds of billions of dollars annually.
This not only undermines the economic stability of US businesses but also threatens the livelihoods of countless Americans.
Economic espionage—largely through cyber intrusions that target confidential US business information, including trade secrets, technical data, and other proprietary information—costs US industries hundreds of billions of dollars annually.
Research Partnerships and Talent Recruitment Programs
The PRC's utilization of research partnerships, academic collaborations, and talent recruitment programs represents a strategic approach to illicitly acquire US technology. By leveraging these avenues, the PRC gains access to cutting-edge advancements, which can then be repurposed for use in Chinese civilian and military industries.
This poses a significant economic risk, as US innovations are diverted for the benefit of adversarial industries and militaries.
The Threat Posed by Individuals
This assessment from DHS also highlights the role of individuals participating in these programs, emphasizing that they often lack formal intelligence training. Despite this, their involvement poses a grave risk to US information integrity and national security.
These individuals have access to sensitive US research, technology, proprietary business data, and trade secrets, which they transfer to China to bolster their industries and militaries, often at the expense of US Homeland security.
The DHS Intelligence Enterprise Homeland Threat Assessment serves as a stark reminder of the persistent threat posed by foreign adversaries. The targeted efforts to steal sensitive US information and technology not only jeopardize American competitiveness but also have far-reaching implications for the nation's economic stability and national security.