Inside Cybersecurity

June 22, 2024

Daily News

Critical infrastructure security, IP theft touched on at Homeland Security panel’s China hearing

By Charlie Mitchell / May 24, 2023

Lawmakers on a House Homeland Security subcommittee explored the U.S. response to Chinese government efforts to infiltrate critical infrastructure operations, as well as to steal high-tech and other intellectual property, at a hearing with DHS and FBI officials that largely focused on non-cyber aspects of “Chinese Communist Party aggression” against the United States.

The counterterrorism, law enforcement and intelligence subcommittee hearing, “A Security Sprint: Assessing the U.S. Homeland’s Vulnerabilities to Chinese Communist Party Aggression,” featured testimony from DHS’ Iranga Kahangama and Tyrone Durham, and the FBI’s Jill Murphy.

Subcommittee Chairman August Pfluger (R-TX) in his opening statement warned that DHS’ approach to threats from China, including a “90-day sprint” launched by Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, falls short of meeting the challenge.

“DHS has begun to prioritize the threats posed by the CCP by crafting an unrealistic 90-day sprint that focuses on defending critical infrastructure, disrupting the global fentanyl supply chain, bolstering screening and vetting for illicit travelers from the People’s Republic of China (PRC), mitigating PRC malign economic influence, securing the Arctic region, and mitigating counterintelligence threats posed by the PRC,” Pfluger said.

“While these efforts from both the FBI and DHS are necessary steps in the right direction, we must ensure countering the CCP is the highest priority for all entities involved in homeland security,” the chairman said.

Subcommittee ranking member Seth Magaziner (D-RI) sought information on efforts by the People’s Republic of China to “infiltrate critical infrastructure” including utilities, an issue that Kahangama called DHS’ “most pressing concern.”

Kahangama said CISA and other parts of his department are “actively engaged” with critical infrastructure operators to share information, alerts and other resources.

Under the ongoing “sprint” on challenges related to China, Kahangama said maximizing intelligence and other info-sharing and coordinating China-related efforts across government and with industry partners are top priorities.

Magaziner asked the DHS and FBI officials for details on tools and resources available to critical infrastructure operators, smaller entities and other stakeholders to fend off “relentless” cyber attacks linked to the Chinese government.

He said the U.S.-China relationship is “first and foremost an economic competition” and noted “the CCP routinely uses espionage and cyber exploitation to steal American intellectual property, trade secrets, and even defense information.”

“Each year, China’s economic espionage against American businesses costs between $225 and $600 billion, according to the FBI. In 2020, just one Chinese national stole intellectual property worth a billion dollars from his employer, a U.S. petroleum company,” Magaziner said.

“And last year, a Boston-based cybersecurity firm, Cyberreason, found that a Chinese state actor had exfiltrated hundreds of gigabytes of IP and sensitive data from about 30 companies around the world. The estimated cost of that IP loss runs into the trillions,” he said.

The FBI’s Murphy discussed outreach to venture capitalists that have insights on key emerging technologies and said the bureau is sharing information with developers and entrepreneurs on technology that may be targeted by the PRC.

Subcommittee Chairman Pfluger noted that the Justice Department in February 2022 ended a Trump-era China initiative. “However, it appears the decision was motivated by nothing more than identity politics fueled by unfounded accusations that the investigations under the initiative were excessive or racially biased.… Following the scuttling of the China Initiative, security experts warned that the action emboldened China to increase its spying on the United States.”

He said, “Following the transition to the Biden administration, DHS continued to work consistently on mitigating CCP threats from the component level; however, there was not a clear message regarding DHS Headquarters’ priorities in the issue space until recently.”

Pfluger said, “Both DHS and the FBI need to form long-term strategic plans, like the ones established under the Trump administration, that can counter evolving threats from the CCP now and into the future.” – Charlie Mitchell (