US charges Chi­nese spies and hack­ers in con­spir­acy to steal trade se­crets

The Myanmar Times - - World -

THE Jus­tice De­part­ment on Tues­day un­sealed charges against 10 Chi­nese spies, hack­ers and oth­ers ac­cused of con­spir­ing to steal sen­si­tive com­mer­cial air­line and other se­crets from US and Euro­pean com­pa­nies.

The in­dict­ment marks the third time since Septem­ber that the United States has brought charges against Chi­nese in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cers and their re­cruits for steal­ing Amer­i­can in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty. It comes, too, amid an on­go­ing trade war and gen­eral wors­en­ing of re­la­tions be­tween Wash­ing­ton and Bei­jing.

“This is just the be­gin­ning,” As­sis­tant At­tor­ney Gen­eral John De­mers said. “To­gether with our fed­eral part­ners, we will re­dou­ble our ef­forts to safe­guard Amer­ica’s in­ge­nu­ity and in­vest­ment. ”The al­leged con­spir­acy ran for at least five years be­gin­ning in 2010, and fo­cused on the theft of tech­nol­ogy un­der­ly­ing a tur­bo­fan en­gine used in US and Euro­pean com­mer­cial jets, of­fi­cials said. The en­gine was be­ing de­vel­oped through a part­ner­ship be­tween a French com­pany with an of­fice in Suzhou, China, and a US firm. Nei­ther com­pany was iden­ti­fied in the in­dict­ment, and none of the al­leged con­spir­a­tors is in US cus­tody.

The su­per­sed­ing in­dict­ment was is­sued Oc­to­ber 25 in the South­ern District of Cal­i­for­nia.

The de­fen­dants hacked the French firm, as well as com­pa­nies in Ari­zona, Mas­sachusetts and Ore­gon that made parts for the jet en­gine, of­fi­cials al­leged. At the time of the in­tru­sions, a Chi­nese state-owned aero­space com­pany was de­vel­op­ing a com­pa­ra­ble com­mer­cial jet en­gine, they said.

The al­leged hack­ing of com­mer­cial se­crets to ben­e­fit a Chi­nese com­pany took place be­fore Bei­jing made a pledge to Wash­ing­ton in Septem­ber 2015 not to con­duct such es­pi­onage. Ex­perts have said that since then, China’s cy­ber-en­abled com­mer­cial spying has re­sumed, in par­tic­u­lar by the Min­istry of State Se­cu­rity (MSS), which con­ducts non­mil­i­tary for­eign es­pi­onage and han­dles do­mes­tic coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence.

Two of the de­fen­dants, Zha Rong and Chai Meng, are of­fi­cers with the Jiangsu Prov­ince Min­istry of State Se­cu­rity (JSSD), a pro­vin­cial arm of the MSS. Zha Rong is ac­cused of di­rect­ing the in­tru­sion into the French firm. Chai Meng, who is also known as “Cobain,” co­or­di­nated the hack­ers and the ac­tiv­ity of two Chi­nese em­ploy­ees of the French com­pany, who also were charged for their role in fa­cil­i­tat­ing the tech­nol­ogy theft, U.S. of­fi­cials said. Those em­ploy­ees, Gu Gen and Tian Xi, worked in the com­pany’s Suzhou of­fice.

Ac­cord­ing to the in­dict­ment, in Jan­uary 2014, Tian re­ceived mal­ware from his MSS han­dler and in­stalled it on a com­pany com­puter. One month later, Gu, who over­saw in­for­ma­tion se­cu­rity in the French com­pany’s Suzhou of­fice, warned his col­leagues when for­eign law en­force­ment no­ti­fied the com­pany about the mal­ware, US pros­e­cu­tors said.

As a re­sult, two other de­fen­dants erased ev­i­dence link­ing the mal­ware to an ac­count con­trolled by the Chi­nese govern­ment op­er­a­tives, pros­e­cu­tors said. The first al­leged hack took place in Jan­uary 2010, when the de­fen­dants com­pro­mised Cap­stone Tur­bine, a Los An­ge­les-based gas tur­bine man­u­fac­turer, to steal data and use its web­site to spread mal­ware.

Other hack­ing at­tempts fol­lowed, in­clud­ing against an uniden­ti­fied San Diego com­puter tech­nol­ogy com­pany whose net­work was re­peat­edly com­pro­mised, caus­ing thou­sands of dol­lars of dam­age, pros­e­cu­tors said. In that con­spir­acy, pros­e­cu­tors said, Zhang Zhang-Gui, a hacker op­er­at­ing at the di­rec­tion of the pro­vin­cial MSS, gave his friend Li Xiao mal­ware that had been de­vel­oped by the op­er­a­tives who hacked Cap­stone Tur­bine. With that mal­ware, Li was able to hack the San Diego com­pany, pros­e­cu­tors al­leged.

This month, the Jus­tice De­part­ment an­nounced that an MSS in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer was ex­tra­dited to the South­ern District of Ohio on charges that he at­tempted to steal trade se­crets re­lated to jet air­craft en­gines. Last month, a grand jury in­dicted a US Army re­cruit ac­cused of work­ing as an agent of a Chi­nese spy.

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