Silicon Valley at front line of global cyber war

Chinese President Xi Jinping waves upon leaving Costa

Chinese President Xi Jinping waves upon leaving Costa Rica, in San Jose. The president of China ends his official visit to Costa Rica and now he will begin a visit to Mexico. (June 4, 2013) Photo Credit: Getty

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Chinese president Xi Jinping and American counterpart Barack Obama will talk cybersecurity this week in California, but experts say the state's Silicon Valley and its signature high-tech firms should provide the front lines in the increasingly aggressive fight against overseas hackers.

With China seeking to grow its economy and expand its technology base, companies like Facebook, Apple, Google and Twitter are inviting targets. In fact, all have been attacked and all point the finger at China, which has denied any role.

The U.S. government has stepped up efforts to thwart cyberattacks, but those efforts are mainly focused at protecting its own secrets, especially regarding military operations and technologies.

Paul Rosenzweig, a former Department of Homeland Security official whose Red Branch Consulting provides national security advice, said the responsibility for preventing attacks in the private sector lies with the U.S. innovators who created the technology that's being hacked in the first place.

"To some degree, they were getting a pass," he said. "If a car manufacturer made a car that was routinely able to be stolen, they'd be sued. If software is made with gaps that are a liability, they bear some responsibility, and in recent years there's been a sea change in high tech firms accepting that responsibility."

Big firms like Google employ thousands of security experts who can spot a potential attack on just a few individuals and quickly disseminate protection for everyone using their products.

Google routinely detects unsafe websites that spread malicious software or trick people into revealing personal information, posting warnings in front of users and contacting webmasters who may have been hacked.

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But Chinese hackers have managed to hit even Google, and in a book released this spring, Google's executive chairman Eric Schmidt said China is the world's "most sophisticated and prolific hacker."

Cybersecurity is high on the agenda for the meeting between Obama and Xi on Friday and Saturday in Rancho Mirage, a resort city in Southern California.

A recent government report found nearly 40 Pentagon weapons programs and almost 30 other defense technologies were compromised by cyber intrusions from China.

Frustration is growing as the attacks continue. Although none have come out publicly, analysts say some U.S. companies even are considering cyberattacks of their own as retaliation, even though it's illegal.

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