When you’re trying to build your business with a country, you don’t typically accuse it of electronic espionage. And yet, that’s exactly what Canada recently did, claiming that China had broken into a top government research lab that works with many major companies. The allegations came despite Canada’s interest in selling more oil to the world’s second largest economy.
The Chinese government called the charges “groundless speculations” and denied any involvement.
Hear those allegations? It hasn’t been the first time that such words were publicly spoken and likely won’t be the last time that IT professionals will hear them. Although the involvement of governments in industrial espionage is nothing new, the concept of a government with China’s human, technical, and financial resources on the hunt for secrets and intellectual property is disconcerting. When working toward your master’s in information systems management you might not have paid much attention to international politics. It’s time you did and made the lessons practical.
The idea that governments spy on one another shouldn’t be shocking after decades of books and movies devoted to the topic. The commercial angle is not so well understood. Nations and their intelligence agencies are intrinsically tied to commerce. Look at the CIA’s World Fact Book, with extensive information on macroeconomic trends and factors in virtually every country in the world. Commerce is one of the more important reasons that nations gather information on each other.
The tie to industrial espionage is actually older than many realize. Europe tried to gain the secrets of Chinese porcelain manufacturing for hundreds of years. In the 18th century, the French planted apprentices in iron and steel yards to take secrets. Britain snuck rubber tree seeds out of 19th century Brazil to jumpstart its own rubber manufacturing.
China has quickly developed a reputation for alleged state-sponsored hacking into government and corporate facilities for access to insider business information, including breaking into protected systems of security company RSA. U.S. and British government officials have also claimed that the country supports criminal hackers who are sources for industrial secrets.
Security issues have never been as high profile as they are today. An understanding of the political reality behind industrial espionage can help both support strategic goals — for example, helping to identify more likely sources of attacks — and provide business support to help top executives better understand the risks and better argue for the resources necessary to protection.
A famous US politician, the late Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill, once said that all politics is local. Now is the time to translate global politics into local IT action.