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Symantec CEO Declares IP Theft Greater Threat Than Cyber War

Speaking to the Financial Times yesterday, Steve Bennett, CEO at Symantec and an advisor to president Obama, suggests that business is putting emphasis in the wrong place. "Governments, still reeling from the fallout of the revelations about National Security Agency surveillance, are asking the 'wrong question,'" reports the FT, "and confusing privacy with cyber security... The focus should be ensuring information is secure before you can create privacy policies."

“While we’re making best efforts that aren’t producing results, the bad guys are getting more sophisticated and the consequences of breaches are going up,” said Bennett. “What I’m most concerned about for the world is the economic threat if intellectual property is transferred from IP creators to countries with lower costs.”

It is widely believed that cyber espionage and IP theft were largely instrumental in the demise of Nortel. Just two months ago Brian Shields, a former Nortel security adviser, said “Hackers are what brought Nortel down.” China Watch Canada went on to explain, "Shields says he suspects the hackers were Chinese because a Chinese competitor suddenly started offering cheaper products and services that erased Nortel's income."

“Intellectual property (IP) is no longer safe and businesses are losing their competitive edge as a result," agrees Lior Arbel, CTO of Performanta Ltd. "The Symantec chief is right to warn companies over the cyber threat to intellectual property as barely a day goes past without a story about a business being a victim of hacking or a data breach. A US commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property in May 2013, estimated that theft of IP from the US is costing the nation an estimated $300bn (£200bn) each year, with China thought to be behind 50-80% of the theft. Whilst the US is clearly stepping up its rhetoric on this issue, calling for stronger deterrent measures that make IP theft unprofitable at a governmental level, there are ways in which businesses can deal with the threat of critical data loss right now at a technological level."

Although IP regulation is always a major part of trade agreements, it is noticeable that the leaked IP chapter of the current negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) seem to concentrate more on the IP of the creative industries than on business IP. It is also noticeable that China – often blamed for the worst excesses of IP theft – is not a party to the TPP.

Peter Armstrong, director of cyber security at Thales UK believes that improving security defenses is the way to stop IP theft, and that such improvement will be best achieved by regulation. "Regulation is a necessity to alter corporate behavior," he suggests. "The National Institute of Standards and Technology framework set up by executive order from President Obama is a step in the right direction for the security industry. Greater collaboration on cyber issues should also lead to an improvement in cyber awareness and cyber standards, particularly as external attacks multiply faster than legacy IT security solutions can currently keep up with.”

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