Worst Cyber-Criminals in the World: China and Russia, Claims U.S. Report

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Forget Anonymous and LulzSec, according to a new U.S. report compiled from research by over a dozen spy agencies and area experts, the world’s worst cyber-criminals are China and Russia. The Chinese in particular are in the U.S.’s crosshairs, accused in the report of being “the world’s most active and persistent perpetrators of economic espionage.”

Them’s fightin’ words—indeed, words strong enough for the Wall Street Journal to call the accusations “an unusual move” that’s likely designed to drive both domestic and international groups toward measures that would battle espionage-related activities threatening economic growth. The Washington Post describes the report as “abandoning the caution American officials typically display,” but adds that a senior U.S. intelligence official said the report’s bluntness “was prompted by the severity of the threat.”

(MORE: China Denies Hacking U.S. Satellites)

Russian intelligence services also come in for a tongue-lashing, accused of “conducting a range of activities to collect economic information and technology from U.S. targets.”

The conclusion: Russia and China are spying to give themselves an economic edge. Indeed, the report fingers corporate hackers in both countries as illicitly mining sensitive corporate American research to bolster their respective economies. What’s more, “the governments of China and Russia will remain aggressive and capable collectors of sensitive U.S. economic information and technologies, particularly in cyberspace,” say the reports authors. The report, just delivered to Congress, was released Thursday morning.

China’s response was swift if predictable: “We are opposed to willfully making unwarranted allegations against China as firmly as our opposition to any forms of unlawful cyberspace activities,” said embassy spokesman Wang Baodong in an emailed statement.

But “unlawful” may be in the eye of the beholder. According to the senior official mentioned above, China and Russia sanction economic espionage as part of their national economic strategies, whereas such activities are illegal in the U.S. What’re they after? In addition to high-tech economic secrets, the report identifies military and aerospace technology, environmental tech and healthcare-related information (think pharmaceuticals) as top of the list.

While Russia’s presence in the report may surprise some, China’s repeatedly been in the news here, accused by both governmental and private U.S. agencies of foul play. In March, Google accused China of “slowing down Gmail.” (China’s response: We didn’t do it.) In June, China was accused of hacking the Gmail accounts of hundreds of users, including senior U.S. government officials. (China’s response: We didn’t do it.) And the company was just accused of hacking U.S. satellites, denying that, as well.

The biggest obstacle toward preventing international espionage? U.S. corporations that don’t take the threat seriously enough. “Only 5 percent of corporate chief financial officers are involved in network security matters, and only 13 percent of companies have a cross-functional cyber risk team that bridges the technical, financial, and other elements of a company, according to a 2010 study,” says the report, according to Business Week.

MORE: Chinese Hackers Targeting U.S. Satellites?

Matt Peckham is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @mattpeckham or on Facebook. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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