Jim Armitage: Western firms fall prey to data theft in China

Global Outlook

At least the cyber attacks this week were not motivated by reasons of espionage or politics. Research out last night highlighted the extent of the internet cold war being conducted by China against its western peers. The American Chamber of Commerce in China polled its members – US firms doing business in the country – about how many of them had been victims of data theft. The result: more than 25 per cent.

At first I suspected paranoia – there was a huge amount of publicity in the expat community last month surrounding the discovery of alleged attacks on more than 100 US firms by the Chinese military. But the chamber of commerce poll was taken last Christmas, long before that story heightened tensions.

The response of China, now led by new President Xi Jinping, hardly engendered confidence. The foreign ministry attacked the chamber for conducting the survey in the first place: it was, apparently, a "completely irresponsible action".

Western firms chasing growth where little exists at home will continue pursuing sales in the world's fastest-growing economy. And so they should. But its economic power leaves western businesses feeling increasingly helpless to prevent its fingers rifling through their pockets while they trade.

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