The Department of Justice (DOJ) announced Tuesday that 10 Chinese intelligence officers and hackers have been charged with stealing airline engine technology from French and U.S. companies.
According to the DOJ, the Chinese intelligence officers and those working under their direction, which included hackers and co-opted company insiders, conducted or otherwise enabled repeated intrusions into private companies’ computer systems in the United States and abroad for over five years.
The conspirators’ ultimate goal was to steal, among other data, intellectual property and confidential business information, including information related to a turbofan engine used in commercial airliners, the DOJ stated.
The charged intelligence officers, Zha Rong and Chai Meng, and other co-conspirators, worked for the Jiangsu Province Ministry of State Security (JSSD), headquartered in Nanjing, which is a provincial foreign intelligence arm of the People’s Republic of China’s Ministry of State Security (MSS), stated the DOJ. The MSS, and by extension the JSSD, is primarily responsible for domestic counter-intelligence, non-military foreign intelligence, and aspects of political and domestic security.
From at least January 2010 to May 2015, JSSD intelligence officers and their team of hackers, including Zhang Zhang-Gui, Liu Chunliang, Gao Hong Kun, Zhuang Xiaowei, and Ma Zhiqi, focused on the theft of technology underlying a turbofan engine used in U.S. and European commercial airliners, the DOJ stated.
This engine was being developed through a partnership between a French aerospace manufacturer with an office in Suzhou, Jiangsu province, China, and a company based in the United States. Members of the conspiracy, assisted and enabled by JSSD-recruited insiders Gu Gen and Tian Xi, hacked the French aerospace manufacturer.
The hackers also conducted intrusions into other companies that manufactured parts for the turbofan jet engine, including aerospace companies based in Arizona, Massachusetts and Oregon. At the time of the intrusions, a Chinese state-owned aerospace company was working to develop a comparable engine for use in commercial aircraft manufactured in China and elsewhere, according to the DOJ.
“State-sponsored hacking is a direct threat to our national security. This action is yet another example of criminal efforts by the MSS to facilitate the theft of private data for China’s commercial gain,” said U.S. Attorney Adam 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 products.”
“The threat posed by Chinese government-sponsored hacking activity is real and relentless,” said John Brown, FBI Special Agent in Charge of the San Diego Field Office. “Today, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, with the assistance of our private sector, international and U.S. government partners, is sending a strong message to the Chinese government and other foreign governments involved in hacking activities. We are working together to vigorously investigate and hold hackers accountable regardless of their attempts to hide their illicit activities and identities.”
On October 10, the Department of Justice announced that a JSSD intelligence officer was extradited to the Southern District of Ohio, on charges that he attempted to steal trade secrets related to jet aircraft engines, and in September, in the Northern District of Illinois, a U.S. Army recruit was charged with working as an agent of a JSSD intelligence officer, without notification to the Attorney General.