Department of Justice charges Chinese intelligence officers for hacking sites of aerospace companies

The US Department of Justice has indicted Chinese hackers accused of stealing aircraft tech secrets from aerospace companies according to a federal court filing released this Tuesday.

Federal prosecutors say hackers, including officers working for the foreign intelligence arm of China’s Ministry of State Security, were charged with commercial espionage after stealing information on commercial jet engines being worked on in the United States.

More specifically, the Department of Justice says Chinese secret service agents managed to steal sensitive information about the tech behind turbofan engines used in commercial airlines. The Chinese operatives are said to have been working on retrieving information from early 2010 up till May 2015. So far, only eight people have been indicted in that time frame.

John C. Demers, the assistant attorney general for national security, says in a DOJ press release:

“For the third time since only September, the National Security Division, with its US Attorney partners, has brought charges against Chinese intelligence officers from the JSSD and those working at their direction and control for stealing American intellectual property,” 

“This is just the beginning. Together with our federal partners, we will redouble our efforts to safeguard America’s ingenuity and investment.”

The DOJ also notes that Chinese agents retrieved sensitive information from an “unnamed” French aerospace company that was working the with US company to develop the engine.

A Chinese state-owned aerospace company had been trying to develop a similar kind of engine to use in a commercial aircraft

Chinese operatives are also said to have hacked numerous other aerospace companies in the US (Massachusetts, Oregon and Arizona) and the United Kingdom.

According to the Department of Justice, Chinese hackers created fake email accounts and hid their activity through numerous servers from around the world. They then used techniques such as spear phishing, sending emails plagued with malware, installing malware on companies’ web pages, and bribing employees to retrieve sensitive information.

There have been several similar indictments from the Department of Justice recently. Just last month, another Chinese operative was accused of stealing aircraft engine secrets while a US Army captain was accused of colluding with Chinese intelligence.

“State-sponsored hacking is a direct threat to our national security,” US Attorney Adam Braverman said in a statement.

“This action is yet another example of criminal efforts by the MSS [China’s Ministry of State Security] to facilitate the theft of private data for China’s commercial gain.”

According to Business Insider, two of the defendants were employees at China’s MSS (Ministry of State Security), which specializes in domestic and foreign intelligence. Six of the defendants serviced intelligence officers and were described as hackers by the Department of Justice. The other two defendants were Chinese nationals who worked for a French-based aviation company that was hit by the recent attacks.

“This action is yet another example of criminal efforts by the MSS to facilitate the theft of private data for China’s commercial gain,” says Braverman.

“The concerted effort to steal, rather than simply purchase, commercially available products should offend every company that invests talent, energy, and shareholder money into the development of product,” he continues.