A series of cyber attacks backed by Chinese government hackers earlier this year infiltrated the computers of a U.S. Navy contractor, allowing a large amount of highly-sensitive data on undersea warfare to reportedly be stolen. Likely by A People’s Liberation Army unit, known as Unit 61398, which is filled with skilled Chinese hackers who pilfered corporate trade secrets to benefit Chinese state-owned industry. The breaches, which took place in January and February 2018, including secret plans to develop a supersonic anti-ship missile for use on US submarines by 2020, according to American officials.
Fig. 1. U.S. Navy Submarine.
This data was of a highly sensitive nature despite it being housed on the contractor’s unclassified network – putting it here was mistake and exacerbated vulnerabilities. A contractor who works for the Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Newport, R.I. — a research and development center for submarines and underwater weaponry — was the target of the hackers, the Post reported. While the unnamed officials did not identify the contractor, they told the newspaper that a total of 614 gigabytes of material was taken. Included in that data was information about a secret project known as Sea Dragon, in addition to signals and sensor data and the Navy submarine development unit’s electronic warfare library. The Washington Post said it agreed to withhold some details of what was stolen at the request of the U.S. Navy over fears it could compromise national security.
A Navy spokesperson told Fox News in a statement the service branch will not comment on specific incidents, but cyber threats are “serious matters” officials are working to “continuously” bolster awareness of. There are measures in place that require companies to notify the government when a cyber incident has occurred that has actual or potential adverse effects on their networks that contain controlled unclassified information,” Cmdr. Bill Speaks said. “It would be inappropriate to discuss further details at this time.”
Fig 2. China’s first domestically manufactured aircraft carrier returns to port in Dalian after sea trials on 05/18/2018.
Military experts fear that China has developed capabilities that could complicate the Navy’s ability to defend US allies in Asia in the event of a conflict with China. The Chinese are investing in a range of platforms, including quieter submarines armed with increasingly sophisticated weapons and new sensors, Admiral Philip Davidson said during his April nomination hearing to lead US Indo-Pacific Command. And what they cannot develop on their own, they steal – often through cyberspace, he said. “One of the main concerns that we have,” he told the Senate Armed Services Committee, “is cyber and penetration of the dot-com networks, exploiting technology from our defense contractors, in some instances.”
Chinese government hackers have previously targeted information on the U.S. military, including designs for the F-35 joint strike fighter which they copied. Last year, South Korean firms involved in the deployment of the U.S. Army’s Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, missile defense system, the Wall Street Journal reported at the time. No matter how fast the government moves to shore up its cyber defenses, and those of the defense industrial base, the cyber attackers move faster.
Compiled from Jennifer Griffin at Fox News, The Post, The Wall Street Journal, Independent News, and Huff Post. Edited and curated by Jeremy Swenson of Abstract Forward Consulting.