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Digital espionage is a form of hacking that is conducted for commercial or political reasons. Foreign cyberspies steal secret information for political purposes or to engineer new technologies that they do not have the knowledge to produce on their own. Digital espionage is also conducted for the purposes of stealing trade secrets so as to obtain a more competitive edge or to develop and then launch a product at the same time as its original manufacturer. Digital espionage is a direct threat to national security worldwide as well as to enterprise.
Another term for digital espionage is cyber exploitation.
Hackers who engage in digital espionage sometimes conduct these activities out of patriotism brought on by real or perceived threats or disrespect from other countries. Government intelligence is compromised when hackers successfully perform digital espionage because the information contained in classified documents may contain advanced technology or national defense information. Digital espionage often occurs without a trace, so it is difficult to know just how often it takes place. Sometimes even when digital espionage has been discovered, it is still impossible to trace the responsible parties due to the sophisticated techniques the hackers have used.
The United States has thwarted attempts by Russia, China and other countries to infiltrate electrical grids and other infrastructure such as major water and sewage systems. It is easy to imagine that these types of infrastructure, as well as nuclear power plants, financial networks, electrical companies and transportation have been illegally tapped via digital espionage. This not only compromises business network security, but it weakens homeland security as well.
In addition to politically motivated digital espionage, enterprise has fallen prey to its share of information theft. Here, competitors steal intellectual and trade secrets for their own gain.