Between 2010 and 2015, Chinese operatives together with hackers and company insiders working at a facility in Jiangsu, China, allegedly engaged in a major industrial cyberespionage operation targeting a US – French manufacturing company developing a turbofan engine for commercial planes, the US Department of Justice announced this week.
“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,” said John C. Demers, Assistant Attorney General for National Security.
Employees recruited into the state-sponsored hacking operation infected the computer with malware, but they tried to get rid of it and cover their tracks when it was detected, the Department of Justice said.
The two alleged Chinese operatives, Zha Rong and Chai Meng, were employees of a provincial agency part of China’s Ministry of State Security. Their first alleged hack, in 2010, targeted Capstone Turbine in Los Angeles. Hackers “used its website as a watering hole” and a similar move was made against an unnamed San Diego-based company from 2012 to 2015, writes the Department of Justice.
The goal of the operation was allegedly to steal proprietary and top secret information to pass on to the Chinese government. To achieve this they deployed a number of techniques such as spear phishing emails and domain hijacking to hack a variety of manufacturing and aerospace companies in Arizona, Oregon and Massachusetts, the department said.
This was an important espionage operation to “facilitate the theft of private data for China’s commercial gain,” as stated by U.S. Attorney Adam Braverman, because at the time China was also working on building a similar commercial airliner engine.