Huntsville business leaders learn to fight economic espionage

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - It would take you more than 15,000  years to count every dollar the United State losses annually due to the theft of trade secrets.

The U.S. Attorney for Alabama's Northern District met with business leaders in Huntsville to show ways to combat this crime.

"When we're talking about threats to intellectual property and trade secrets here in Madison County, and Huntsville, at the Arsenal, out in Research Park, that threat comes in a variety of forms," said Jay Town, U.S. Attorney for Alabama's Northern District.

He says one form is cyber hacking. That's something Huntsville is familiar with. Back in 2013, a report from Bloomberg showed that Chinese hackers may have gotten a backdoor entrance into Redstone Arsenal through a network the base shares with QinetiQ, a defense contractor.

"Eighty percent of all economic espionage in this country has a nexus to China," Town said. "Sixty percent of every case we have that involves the theft of trade secrets has a nexus to China."

Town says China continues to be the most significant threat to the U.S. when it comes to this. He did mention Iran during the meeting and says the threat level of economic espionage has not changed due to tension with that country.

"The threat level is no different. It's just awareness now, I think, is starting to become on the forefront of our minds. So it's a really good time for us to have this type of conversation with our corporate partners here in Huntsville, Madison County," he said.

He says the theft of trade secrets can affect all industries.

"Chinese especially are trying to rob that technology, try to replicate it, reverse engineer it and then replace it in the Chinese economy and then eventually the world economy," he stated.

That costs Americans billions.

"We lose $500 billion a year in this country to the theft of trade secrets," he said.

And that's why Town says it's so important for companies to protect their trade secrets.

Town says in addition to cybersecurity threats, companies should also be on guard against what he refers to as "human threats." This includes people walking out of businesses with vital information on thumb drives.