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US.gov paints gloomy picture of overseas threats

Kidnapping, IP fraud and cyberterror blight trading landscape

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It's being a difficult year for US businesses operating overseas. Targeted computer attacks in Europe, intellectual property thefts in Asia, natural disasters in Latin America, and terrorism just about everywhere were among the varied threats faced by US firms in 2007, according to a year-end analysis by the US State Department's Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC).

Attacks on the Baltic republic of Estonia, which disrupted government and private sector systems for days in late April raised concerns that US companies could be vulnerable to similar assaults. "It is vital to recognize that these attacks can easily be replicated against a new target, including the US private sector," OSAC warns, the Canadian Press reports.

The council was created more than 20 years ago in 1985 to further co-operation between the State Department and US businesses on issues including security. The latest edition of its annual report highlighted 10 particular security concerns including terrorism, natural disaster, property theft and political instability.

It warned of growing reports of fraud and the theft of trade secrets in countries including India and China. OSAC cautioned firms that their own staff are often the culprits behind thefts and other scams. "OSAC advises that US companies and other entities should take strong precautions against the insider threat, to safeguard communications systems, and for the safekeeping of sensitive data," the report said.

US firms trading overseas create jobs and export earnings at home, benefits worth bearing in mind when considering the report's more doom-laden observations. Among other OSAC notes continuing political instability in Lebanon and terror attacks in Algeria. A rising tide of kidnappings in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria, many of which target workers of western-owned oil companies, is also a concern.

In South America, meanwhile, natural disasters including earthquakes and storms were the biggest trading problem for US firms. Antagonism from governments, including Venezuela and Bolivia, was also a factor affecting the smooth running of some businesses.

Todd Brown, OSAC's executive director, urged US firms to respond proactively to threats detailed in the report. "Those US entities that take proactive security postures, manage their risks and develop an internal culture of resiliency often are better able to survive and even thrive in riskier environments or in the aftermath of disasters," he said. ®

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