Chi­nese government steals war­fare data from Navy con­trac­tor

Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend - - WEATHER DESK -

WASHINGTON — China has stolen data re­lated to naval war­fare from the com­put­ers of a Navy con­trac­tor, U.S. of­fi­cials said Fri­day, in an­other step in the long-run­ning cy­ber­war be­tween two global ad­ver­saries.

The breach oc­curred this year, the of­fi­cials said, when Chi­nese government hackers in­fil­trated the com­put­ers of a com­pany work­ing on a Navy sub­ma­rine and un­der­wa­ter pro­grams con­tract. The com­pany, which was not iden­ti­fied, was do­ing work for the Naval Un­der­sea War­fare Cen­ter, which is based in New­port, R.I.

Of­fi­cials said the data gleaned by China was un­clas­si­fied.

Navy of­fi­cials de­clined to speak pub­licly about the hack, which was first re­ported by The Washington Post.

But in a state­ment, Lt. Marycate Walsh, a Navy spokes­woman, cited “mea­sures in place that re­quire com­pa­nies to no­tify the government when a cy­ber­in­ci­dent has oc­curred that has ac­tual or po­ten­tial ad­verse ef­fects on their net­works that con­tain con­trolled un­clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion.”

She said it would be “in­ap­pro­pri­ate to dis­cuss fur­ther de­tails at this time.”

China and the United States have been locked in an es­ca­lat­ing fight over cy­ber and mil­i­tary tech­nol­ogy, with Bei­jing mak­ing rapid gains in re­cent years. U.S. of­fi­cials — from both the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion and the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion be­fore it — con­cede that Washington has strug­gled to de­ter Chi­nese hack­ing, and have pre­dicted the cy­ber­at­tacks will in­crease un­til the United States finds a way to curb them.

The theft of the Navy sys­tem is hardly the largest, or the most sen­si­tive, of the de­signs and sys­tems stolen by Chi­nese hackers over the years. But it un­der­scores a les­son the U.S. government keeps learn­ing: No mat­ter how fast the government moves to shore up it cy­berde­fenses, and those of the de­fense in­dus­trial base, the cy­ber­at­tack­ers move faster.

The plans for the F-35, Amer­ica’s most ex­pen­sive fighter jet in his­tory, were taken more than a decade ago, and the Chi­nese model looks like an al­most ex­act copy.

A Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army unit, known as Unit 61398, was filled with skilled hackers who pur­loined cor­po­rate trade se­crets to ben­e­fit Chi­nese state-owned in­dus­try. But many of its tar­gets were de­fense re­lated as well. Mem­bers of the unit were in­dicted in the last two years of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, but they are not likely to come back to the United States to stand trial.

The most so­phis­ti­cated hack of U.S. data took place at the Of­fice of Per­son­nel Man­age­ment. It lost the files of about 21.5 mil­lion Amer­i­cans who had filed ex­ten­sive ques­tion­naires for their se­cu­rity clear­ances. The forms listed far more than So­cial Se­cu­rity num­bers and birth dates. They de­tailed med­i­cal and fi­nan­cial his­to­ries; past re­la­tion­ships; and de­tails about chil­dren, par­ents and friends, par­tic­u­larly non-U.S. cit­i­zens.

The United States and China are also tan­gling over Bei­jing’s mil­i­ta­riza­tion of dis­puted is­lands in the South China Sea.

Last week, De­fense Sec­re­tary Jim Mat­tis harshly crit­i­cized the Chi­nese government for con­tin­u­ing to mil­i­ta­rize a string of is­lands in the South China Sea, call­ing the pres­ence of ad­vanced mil­i­tary equip­ment and mis­siles there a fla­grant show of mil­i­tary power.

A U.S. of­fi­cial, speak­ing on the con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause he was not al­lowed to be iden­ti­fied in dis­cussing the is­sue, said the Navy was in­ves­ti­gat­ing the breach with the help of the FBI.

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