FBI Director Implores Corporate Boards to Join Cyber Fight

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Companies should amp up protections and be wary of deals that expose U.S. intellectual property, FBI Director Chris Wray says.

FBI Director Christopher Wray implored corporate board members on Monday to work with the federal government to secure their data and computers systems from foreign hackers.

If a company believes it has been breached or finds evidence of malware on its systems, the company should contact the federal government as soon as possible, Wray said during an address before the National Association of Corporate Directors.

“I get that there’s a reluctance out there sometimes to turn to the feds when you’re hacked,” he said, promising that the FBI does not want to interrupt companies’ operations more than necessary.

“In our eyes, you are and should be treated as victims,” he said, “but, time is of the essence in these cases.”

Corporate boards should also ensure companies are prioritizing security and limiting which employees and contractors can access their companies’ most sensitive information, Wray said.  

Wray focused the majority of his warnings on China, which he said is “fighting tomorrow’s fight,” scooping up reams of U.S. companies’ trade secrets and intellectual property in order to gain an edge in key technologies.

He cited several indictments of Chinese citizens in recent years for stealing secrets from U.S. firms.

Wray also urged companies to be wary of mergers, joint ventures and other deals with Chinese companies that may give those companies access to intellectual property or trade secrets.

“A decision to enter into a particular joint venture or a contract with a particular vendor or cloud computing company may look good today,” Wray said. “It might look even better in next quarter’s numbers. But that decision might not look so great a couple years down the road if you’re in the middle of a slow bleed of your intellectual property.”

The Trump administration has boosted its criticism of Chinese economic espionage in recent months, including in a March report from the U.S. Trade Representative.

The Obama administration was also highly critical of Chinese hacking but stepped back that criticism after a 2015 agreement with Chinese President Xi Jinping under which both nations pledged to not hack each other for purely economic gain.

Cybersecurity companies reported that Chinese economic espionage decreased after that deal but did not end. It’s not clear if the pace of Chinese commercial hacking has risen again since then.

The Obama-Xi deal did not apply to the theft of data that has commercial value but also has national security implications, such as airplane designs.