By WBZ-TV Chief Correspondent Joe Shortsleeve

BOSTON (CBS) – Foreign governments are stealing secrets in New England, many times with just a few clicks of a mouse.

The FBI now considers these cyber threats their top priority.

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Like air traffic controllers, they’re monitoring international Internet traffic at Akamai Technologies in Cambridge looking for attacks on computer systems. Andy Ellis is the chief security officer. “We are seeing these attacks not just on defense contractors, but on financial services firms, e-commerce, almost every industry is under attack,” Ellis says.

The enemy? Often foreign governments like China, Russia and Iran. What are they after? Classified technology, critical research and military secrets.

Vincent Lisi is the special agent in charge of the Boston office. “If you look at a target rich environment, we have it here,” Lisi says. “Foreign adversaries are absolutely looking at us.” Lisi says the FBI is now actively counseling company executives and scholars on international cyber threats. And these threats are considered the agency’s number one priority.

These cyber criminals are often successful. Take for example the $4.7 million wind turbine in Charlestown owned by the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority. It was put up by a Chinese company whose executives were charged last June with stealing the installation technology from a Massachusetts company’s computer system.

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And then there is UMass Lowell. The university is still facing $100,000 fine from the feds because in 2007 someone shipped equipment to a company connected to Pakistan’s nuclear program. The university has learned its lesson and just in time. Last fall administrators quickly called the FBI when in another incident, a group of visiting Russian nationals disappeared on campus and the fear was they were trying to access secure areas.

College campuses are often targets. U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz says, “There are individuals from foreign countries who will come in under the guise of being an international student to have access to information research projects.”

The FBI is also showing a video to university leaders. It is about Glenn Duffie Shriver, a college student who was bribed by the Chinese and then encouraged to apply for a job at CIA. When he did, he was arrested.

Boston University admits it is now focusing more energy rooting out any suspicious behavior. Quinn Shamblin oversees some security measures. “I think Boston University is in the same place as many of our colleagues,” Shamblin says. “We are starting to help people understand that this is a real problem.”

The FBI met earlier this month at Raytheon in Woburn. Representatives from universities and other defense contractors were brought up to date on the latest threats.

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