A few years ago, I was invited to a special meeting between top IT professionals and the FBI. Infragard was the name and the topic was corporate cyber-security threats. Not a very catchy name and I'll be honest, sitting still in a late afternoon meeting is tough for a person who starts their day at 1:45 a.m. (I need to keep moving to stay awake), but Special Agent Greg Baker with the FBI in Eastern North Carolina had invited me. I had a lot of respect for Greg and if he said it was interesting, I believed him.
He was right. That two hour meeting was more interesting than any James Bond movie or Tom Clancy novel. I remember walking out saying the cyber-security expert who presented that day should run for president. My eyes were opened to the cyber threats that are out there, how hard big corporations have to work to protect their intellectual property and how careful each and every employee must be with their company issued laptops and phones.
In recent months, we've reported a lot on the issue of hackers, specifically from China. An independent government commission estimates that 50 to 80 percent of intellectual property stolen from U.S. companies was stolen from Chinese hackers. The thefts can take companies down. In fact, I profile one Triangle company that blames hackers for its downfall. But the thieves don't necessarily need to take from the companies themselves to get what they need.
Private security contractor Ryan Johnson, whom I've interviewed a number of times over the years, told me about threats to other entities that hold all the secrets, but may not have the firewalls in place to protect that information. I leaned on the company Ryan works for, Alvarez & Marsal, for more information. I called Greg Baker, who is now retired from the FBI. I interviewed the company that conducted the most comprehensive investigation to date on Chinese hackers, and I looked at what North Carolina is doing to protect businesses as it develops one of the best business relationships in the country with China.
Watch WRAL Investigates' story on high-tech hackers Thursday on WRAL News at 6 p.m. Preview the story below: