The revelations about large-scale data mining by the National Security Agency have led German companies to increase their security efforts.
"We are noticing that companies have become more sensitive in recent weeks," Michael George, head of the Cyber Alliance Center at the Bavarian State Office for the Protection of the Constitution, told the German news weekly Der Spiegel
The office is the state branch of Germany's domestic intelligence agency.
"When it comes to industrial espionage, they had focused almost exclusively on the East," George said. "And now, they're wondering whether the threat might not also be coming from the West."
In June, Germany and other important foreign allies threatened investigations and sanctions against the U.S. over secret surveillance programs that reportedly installed covert listening devices in European Union offices.
The allegations were reported by Der Spiegel.
U.S. intelligence officials had said that they would directly discuss the allegations with EU officials, but the former head of the CIA and NSA urged the Obama administration to make the spy programs more transparent to calm public fears about the American government's snooping.
Under the USA Patriot Act of 2001, American authorities are granted access to all domestic data, both private and commercial. In addition, software developers can be compelled to build backdoors — or "interfaces" — into programs through which intelligence agencies can later gain access.
The developers are also required to sign non-disclosure agreements and are forbidden from even talking to their superiors about the work, Der Spiegel reports.
While no known cases of U.S. agencies trying to steal German know-how exist, the issue still has many company executives worried.
"Many documents that used to be sent by email are now hand-delivered to the recipient," an official with EADS, the German aerospace and defense company, told the news weekly.
The only documents that are now sent electronically are those that the company would have no objections to posting publicly or displaying "on the church door," the official said.
Ulrich Brehmer, a member of the executive board of the German Association for Security in Industry and Commerce, said that many executives were most fearful of what the U.S. would do with such information.
"Who knows whether they might be selling information to interested parties here and there," Brehmer told Der Spiegel, adding that the risk of such data abuse was "high."
That American intelligence agencies might be better at covering their tracks could be a factor, Der Spiegel reports.
What sometimes happens is that U.S. intelligence agencies, while conducting extensive web searches, they often can flush out data from German companies "that don't belong there," a senior official with the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution said.
Through data leaks, this information often reaches German authorities, who then notify the affected companies.
"The Americans are pros," Christopher Fischer of BFK, a German consulting firm, told Der Spiegel. "They don't leave any tracks behind — and if they do, they're the wrong ones.
"It's always easy to act as if the attack were coming from China," Fischer added. "And although they are very active at the moment, everything is now of course being blamed on the Chinese."
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