In thinly-veiled remarks against China’s alleged backing of a wave of cyber-attacks on U.S. organisations, the Obama administration on Wednesday hit back at the “Advanced Persistent Threat” identified by a security firm here, promising to intensify its crackdown on intellectual property theft in the digital age.

Speaking here on the occasion of the rollout of the trade-secret strategy, Attorney General Eric Holder named China as he described instances of new technologies making it “easier for criminals to steal trade secrets... from anywhere in the world”.

Mr. Holder said: “A hacker in China can acquire source code from a software company in Virginia without leaving his or her desk,” adding that by “corrupting insiders, hiring hackers, and engaging in other unscrupulous and illegal activities”, such agents could inflict devastating harm on individual creators, start-ups, and major companies.

His candid comments come close on the heels of a secretive military unit in Shanghai, “Unit 61398”, being named by Virginia-based security firm Mandiant as the source of multiple hacking attacks on hundreds of organisations around the world.

Indicating the seriousness of the government’s threat perception, Mr. Holder said there were only two categories of companies affected by trade secret theft — “those that know they’ve been compromised and those that don’t know yet.”

He spoke specifically of the December 2011 case of a federal court sentencing a man from China to more than seven years’ imprisonment on charges of economic espionage on behalf of a foreign university tied to the Chinese government; of the September 2012 case in New Jersey where a jury convicted another Chinese native of trade secret theft from a defence contractor working on the performance and guidance systems for missiles; and the November 2012 Michigan case of a former General Motors engineer convicted of conspiring to steal more than $40 million worth of trade secrets from GM, “with intent to use them in a joint venture with an automotive competitor in China.”

More In: World | International | News