A new government report warns that attempts from foreign governments, associated groups and individuals to engage in economic espionage by stealing sensitive data including confidential information and intellectual property have become more "persistent, pervasive and insidious" in recent years.
The annual report from the Defense Security Service (DSS) said attempts to illegally access and obtain proprietary information rose by 75 percent in 2011 compared with 2010. It also noted that a large chunk of those acting against U.S. interests online are clustered in China and East Asia.
Only since 2011 has the threat become "particularly noteworthy," the DSS said. But now that it is, the problem is like an impossibly overgrown garden, with malicious code lurking seemingly in every nook and cranny.
"Increasingly, the result of all this foreign collection activity is like malignant plants with multiple interlocking roots and branches," the report said. "These noxious weeds root in unexpected places, then send out shoots and tendrils that encroach through any crack or gap into the nurseries and gardens of our industrial base. We may pull out some parts of a plant by the roots and lop off the leaves of others, but the pervasive, penetrating weeds remain." [ The Bank Cyberattacks: Is Your Money Safe? ]
More than anything else, cyberspies seek technology secrets related to space exploration and the military, Kaspersky's Threatpost blog reported. Many attacks from East Asia and the Pacific specifically target information on "radiation hardened" microelectronics that can withstand the affects of intense radiation from a reaction or high-altitude flight.
The DSS report said that is likely an indication that "the microelectronics markets in East Asia and the Pacific are unable to meet the strategic goals" of the countries from which attacks aimed at radiation hardened research originate.
This strategy of illegally obtaining corporate and government secrets, known as suspicious network activity (SNA), will remain the biggest threat to government agencies, workers and contractors and will grow exponentially for the foreseeable future, the report said, with a large bulk of the attacks likely to come from the Pacific and East Asia regions.
Follow Ben on Twitter.