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Cyber threats and leaks spur increased security focus

A magnifying glass is held in front of a computer screen in this picture illustration taken in Berlin May 21, 2013. REUTERS/Pawel Kopczynski
A magnifying glass is held in front of a computer screen in this picture illustration taken in Berlin May 21, 2013. REUTERS/Pawel Kopczynski

By Andrea Shalal-Esa

PARIS (Reuters) - Increased cyber espionage by China and recent leaks by a contractor working at the National Security Agency have put a sharp focus on cyber security for aerospace and defense companies showing off their wares at this year's Paris Airshow.

"We, like others, are constantly being bombarded by people who are trying to get into our systems," said Mark DeYoung, chief executive of U.S. rocket engine and ammunition maker Alliant Techsystems (ATK).

ATK, Lockheed Martin Corp, Boeing Co and other defence companies report hundreds of thousands of attempted probes into their computer networks every day, a matter of growing concern to the U.S. government, which after years of silence has become far more open about its belief that China is actively stealing intellectual property.

Trade shows, especially in foreign countries, pose particular challenges given the large array of people coming in contact with top executives who have access to sensitive information. In recent years, training has focused heavily on avoiding any violations of U.S. export control laws, but cyber security was a huge focus this year.

"The threat is not exaggerated," Dave Hess, president of Pratt & Whitney, a unit of United Technologies Corp, said. "It's a significant issue that we're all struggling with."

ATK disclosed several months ago that its networks had been attacked, but DeYoung said no classified or protected information was lost.

He said every ATK employee attending this year's air show took part in an extensive security briefing before coming and the company has invested millions of dollars in recent years to stay ahead of constantly changing data security threats.

Only new, encrypted laptops may be used, and executives are warned about disclosing sensitive information in any phone call, text message, email or even conversation, "whether you think you're in a private room or car or not," DeYoung said.

Two weeks ago, half a dozen FBI experts joined by officials from other government agencies gave a two-hour briefing on cyber security issues for DeYoung's top dozen executives.

"The sophistication of the people who are trying to get into our systems continues to increase," DeYoung said.

"If you're comfortable, you're probably in trouble, but we're quite confident that we're putting in place all the right kinds of protocols, processes, training and people to keep up with the threat."

Raytheon executives also participate in a lengthy security briefing before the show, but they are not allowed to travel with a laptop at all, said William Swanson, chief executive of Raytheon Co.

Swanson said the disclosure of classified data by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who worked for Booz Allen Hamilton, had reinforced the need for vigilant security.

"Every good company always questions everything when they get new information," he said.

Chris Raymond, who heads business development for the defence division of Boeing, said his company had rigorous security processes in place given the massive size of the parent company's global networks.

He said the increasing openness of the Obama administration about cyber espionage by China and others underscored the importance of building cyber security into every weapons system from the start, but acknowledged that the market for cyber security services was not developing as quickly as some companies in the sector had hoped.

President Barack Obama earlier this month called on his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, to acknowledge the threat posed by "cyber-enabled espionage" against the United States and investigate the problem.

(Additional reporting by Brenda Goh; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)

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