Dec. 14, 2018 – US Navy defense contractors and subcontractors have reportedly suffered “more than a handful” of disconcerting security breaches at the hands of Chinese hackers over the past year and a half.
“Attacks on our networks are not new, but attempts to steal critical information are increasing in both severity and sophistication,” Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer said in an internal memo in October, The Wall Street Journal, which reviewed the memo, reported Friday.
In June it was reported by “The Washington Post :
The computers of a US Navy contractor were breached by Chinese hackers, who stole hundreds of gigabytes of information about secret projects, reports The Washington Post.
According to officials who spoke with the Post, the breaches occurred in January and February of this year. The target was an unnamed contractor that worked with the Naval Undersea Warfare Center, which the Navy uses to conduct “research, development, test and evaluation, engineering and fleet support center for submarines, autonomous underwater systems and offensive and defensive weapons systems associated with undersea warfare.”
Hackers stole 614 gigabytes of data from the contractor, relating to a project called Sea Dragon, a secret project that the Defense Department explained as a new “disruptive offensive capability” being integrated onto “an existing weapons system with an existing Navy platform.” The Post describes the project as a “supersonic anti-ship missile” to be used aboard submarines. The project began in 2012 and was to begin testing in September 2018. The Post notes that in addition to information about Sea Dragon, hackers stole “signals and sensor data, submarine radio room information relating to cryptographic systems, and the Navy submarine development unit’s electronic warfare library.”
“We must act decisively to fully understand both the nature of these attacks and how to prevent further loss of vital military information,” he added.
Although the secretary did not mention China specifically, evidence indicates that Beijing is responsible for what is considered a debilitating cyber campaign against the US.
Earlier this year, Chinese government hackers stole important data on US Navy undersea warfare programs from an unidentified contractor. Among the stolen information were plans for a new supersonic anti-ship missile, The Washington Post, citing US officials, reported in June.
China has been striving to boost its naval warfighting capabilities, and there is evidence that it is relying on stolen technology to do so.
And it’s not just the US Navy. Adm. Philip Davidson, the head of US Indo-Pacific Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee in April that Beijing is “stealing technology in just about every domain and trying to use it to their advantage.”
China is believed to have been behind multiple cybersecurity breaches that facilitated the theft of significant amounts of data on the F-22 and F-35, among other aircraft. That information is suspected to have played a role in the development of China’s new fifth-generation stealth fighters.
Beijing denies that it engages in any form of cyberespionage.
A senior US intelligence official warned Tuesday that concerning Chinese cyber activity in the US is clearly on the rise, and there is evidence that China is targeting critical infrastructure to lay the groundwork for disruptive attacks, Reuters reported.
And US officials say Chinese state hackers are responsible for a data breach at Marriott affecting 500 million customers, according to recent reports. The Trump administration has repeatedly criticized Beijing for the alleged theft of US intellectual property to the tune of several hundred billion dollars a year, one of several sticking points in the ongoing trade spat.
The breaching of US defense contractors’ networks is particularly problematic as China modernizes its force, building a military able to challenge that of the US.
“It’s extremely hard for the Defense Department to secure its own systems,” Tom Bossert, the former homeland security adviser in the Trump administration, told the Journal. “It’s a matter of trust and hope to secure the systems of their contractors and subcontractors.”
Contractors and subcontractors across the entire military lack the desired cybersecurity capabilities and regularly suffer serious breaches, an intelligence official said.
The most active Chinese hackers are reportedly a group known as Temp.Periscope or Leviathan, which is focused on maritime interests but also hits other targets.
One defense official told the Journal that China was targeting America’s “weak underbelly,” calling cybersecurity breaches “an asymmetric way to engage the United States without ever having to fire a round.”