Chinese government-backed hackers have cost the United States nearly $2 trillion in "lost and stolen property" that was seized through illicit Internet attacks, Rep. Mike Rogers (R., Mich.), chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said Monday.
The theft of proprietary information and technology by the Chinese constitutes "the largest transfer of wealth illegally in the world’s history," according to Rogers, who warned that the United States is not prepared to combat these cyber threats.
Chinese military units identify vulnerable U.S. companies and then instruct a team of hackers to steal industrial secrets and other information, according to Rogers, who spoke at an event sponsored by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).
"We are in a cyber war today," Rogers said. "Most Americans don’t know it. They go about their lives happily. But we are in a cyber war today."
China poses the largest threat, according to Rogers.
The Communist regime is "primarily" engaged in economic espionage, he said, explaining that China’s "military and intelligences services" have seized U.S. industrial technology, repurposed it domestically, and then "illegally" competed with the United States in the world market.
Although these hack attacks have been well documented by the United States, few preventative measures have been implemented, said Rogers, a former Army officer and FBI special agent.
"There have been no consequences, and I mean no consequences, to their economic espionage," he said. "It’s been a free rein and a free run."
This theft has allowed China to grow its economy by up to seven percent each year, while also damaging America’s own economic recovery.
Other types of cyber criminals, such as those affiliated with Eastern European nations such as Russia, have successfully infiltrated the U.S. banking sector.
"That credit card in your wallet, the company will get hit about 300,000 times today," Rogers warned.
Countries such as Iran, North Korea, and Russia have used these same tactics to wage a secret cyber war on the United States, Roger said.
The Russians and Chinese, for instance, have the ability to clandestinely implant malicious codes into the U.S. electrical grid.
"If they ever needed to they could shut this off," prompting mass chaos, Rogers warned.
Iran has also stepped up its anti-U.S. cyber campaign in response to tightening economic sanctions.
"We have seen some very, very devastating efforts on behalf of Iran," Rogers said.
Iranian government-backed hackers, for instance, have "aggressively pursued probing actions on our U.S, financial institutions," he said. This action is "unabated" and ongoing.
One recent attack on an unnamed U.S. financial institution cost about "$100 million to deal with," Rogers revealed. "That’s one institution. One attack. And it’s not their best work. That should make everybody sit up straighter."
There is evidence that some of these Iranian hack attacks may have been influenced or sponsored by the Russians, Rogers said.
"Some of the [Internet] signatures certainly have a hint of Muscovite in them," he said, adding that the Iranians have made "the calculation that this is a justified response to sanctions."
Americans have been lulled into having a false sense of security, Rogers said.
"The common myth is that the government protects these networks," he said. "If you read it in the newspaper the [National Security Administration] is listening to your every move."
U.S. policymakers should be targeting hackers across the globe and pressing the issue with the Chinese in particular, Rogers said.
"On any bilateral discussion with China it has to be number one, two, and three on the list," Rogers said. "We should not get to any other discussion before we get some answers" on the cyber front.
One Rogers-backed bill in Congress would name-and-shame Chinese hackers targeting America and monitor there finances.
"These folks have to understand there’s a consequence for stealing intellectual property," he said.