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How China's spies can watch you at your desk

60 Minutes reports on how the Chinese government steals trade secrets from American business people—and why CEOs in the U.S. keep it quiet
How China's spies can watch you at your desk 04:39

Editor's Note: The author of the original article "A Harsh Winter for Sinovel and China's Wind Industry," which was later attached to the phishing email in this video, wishes it known that he was not involved in a cyberattack against American Superconductor.

This week on 60 Minutes, Lesley Stahl explores the devastating impact of Chinese corporate spying and intellectual property theft. The story reports that U.S. companies have already lost hundreds of billions of dollars and more than two million jobs to what's been called "the great brain robbery" of America.

"Every single sector of the American economy has been affected," correspondent Lesley Stahl tells 60 Minutes Overtime editor Ann Silvio. "It's a major, major concern."


In the video above, Dmitri Alperovitch and George Kurtz, founders of a computer security firm called CrowdStrike, demonstrate just how easy it is for Chinese spies to infiltrate American offices.

In some cases, they send a fake email to a U.S. worker that looks as if it comes from a colleague. If the worker clicks on the attachment, the Chinese hacker can not only steal documents, but also activate the computer's camera to watch the worker and listen in on conversations. The goal of such spying, the story explains, is for China to advance its own industries without putting in the research or funding required.


While American CEOs know they're being spied on, they are often reluctant to report it for fear of losing their foothold in China, the world's second largest economy. Richard Bonin, who produced the story for 60 Minutes, says he and his team had the same problem when they tried to find CEOs willing to be interviewed. "It's virtually impossible to find a CEO who will go on camera to talk about it," he says. "And we tried to get many, and you know, all household names."

Bonin says business leaders are concerned that if the spying against their companies became public, shareholders might dump their stock or sue them for not properly safeguarding trade secrets. Or, that the Chinese government would simply bar the American company from doing business in China.

The Justice Department says this reticence on the part of U.S. businesses makes it harder to stop corporate espionage, but some critics say the Obama administration could still do more. Last year, the president seemed to up his game when he signed an executive order giving him the power to sanction any country or entity that hacked into American corporations. "That sent a signal to the Chinese," Bonin says.


Yet, while the government of China told 60 Minutes the country "firmly opposes and combats all forms of cyber attacks in accordance with law," Chinese hacking continues to take a dramatic toll on American companies.

"There's sort of an understanding that if you spy for national security, every country does it," says Stahl. "This is different. This is taking our technology that our businessmen have spent money, energy, years developing, just taking it for themselves."

The video above was produced by Will Croxton and Ann Silvio; and edited by Will Croxton and Lisa Orlando.

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