China raises red flag on online

Soft power strategy makes film biz a target for spying, says cybersecurity firm

A new report from cybersecurity firm FireEye warns that the U.S. film and entertainment industries could come under cyberattack from Chinese hackers intent on undermining companies’  content, technology and internal communications.

China’s Soft Power Strategy and Cyber Intrusions: What Hollywood Should Know,” due to be officially published next week, posits that Chinese authorities see U.S. domination of filmed entertainment as a strategic advantage for America, and want that advantage for China.

We judge that links between China’s soft power strategy (in this case, their cultural means of influence) and its designation of ‘creative industries’ as strategic, provides the motivation for groups to commit cyber espionage,” says the report.

Of course, FireEye sells threat protection and stands to gain financially if the entertainment industry invests in cyber-security.

But cybersecurity expert Hemanshu Nigam, founder of SSP Blue, says China’s cyber threat to the entertainment industry is already well known. “When your’e doing business with a country or company that has very different beliefs than the American value system, there’s always a chance this kind of thing can happen,” Nigam told Variety.

Both economic and political motives will drive China to target the entertainment industry for hacking, says the report. That could range from hacking executives’ emails for business intelligence to stealing expertise and technology to interfering with productions the Chinese authorities disapprove of. It even warns that there could be insiders planted within Hollywood companies to identify and monitor “entities or individuals China can consider threatening or friendly to its soft power interests.”

The FireEye report cites a the example of a U.S. documentary crew shooting “a small documentary about Tibet” called “State of Control.” The production suffered “persistent cyber disruptions” that reportedly included “cell phone surveillance, exploited laptops, data destruction and website malfunctions.”

FireEye’s assessment assumes that China’s own entertainment industry will do the bidding of the government. In fact, while Chinese authorities are are interested in exporting entertainment to the world as a way of building soft power, Chinese producers have been interested in the escalating profits from films targeted at China’s fast-growing domestic market. As a result, Chinese pictures generally don’t travel well.

Nigam warned that there is growing danger of content theft as more and more content is put online. “China has shown itself to be a haven for pirates and a huge marketplace for piracy,” said Nigam. “It’s not a new area but it will continue to grow because of the interconnectedness of the world and because people in China will look for ways to hack, attack and steal.”

Nigam argues that stronger government-to-government interactions are vital to controlling that problem. “There’s a feeling in the hacker community that ‘We can do this, we can get away with this. Who can do anything about it?’”

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