China Army hackers raid U.S. military contractors: report

In this Nov. 7, 2012 photo, U.S. and Chinese national flags are hung outside a hotel during the U.S. Presidential election event, organized by the U.S. embassy in Beijing. As public evidence mounts that the Chinese military is responsible for stealing massive amounts of U.S. government data and corporate trade secrets, the Obama administration is eyeing fines and other trade actions it may take against Beijing or any other country guilty of cyberespionage. The Chinese government, meanwhile, has denied involvement in the cyber-attacks tracked by Mandiant. Instead, the Foreign Ministry said that China, too, is a victim of hacking, some of it traced to the U.S. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei cited a report by an agency under the Ministry of Information Technology and Industry that said in 2012 alone that foreign hackers used viruses and other malicious software to seize control of 1,400 computers in China and 38,000 websites. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

China Army hackers have raided U.S. government military records at will by exploiting weak computer defenses at private U.S. contractors like QinetiQ, which counts ex-CIA boss George Tenet and ex-U.S. military intelligence boss Stephen Cambone among its current and past managers, Bloomberg LP reports, in a story that traces an apparently sweeping, systematic and years-long penetration of U.S. military secrets. Read it here. Excerpt:

"Beginning at least as early as 2007, Chinese computer spies raided the databanks of almost every major U.S. defense contractor and made off with some of the country’s most closely guarded technological secrets, according to two former Pentagon officials who asked not to be named because damage assessments of the incidents remain classified.

"As the White House moves to confront China over its theft of U.S. technology through hacking, policy makers are faced with the question of how much damage has already been done. During their multiyear assault on defense contractors, the spies stole several terabytes -- equal to hundreds of millions of pages --of documents and data on weapons programs, dwarfing in sheer quantity any theft of Cold War secrets.

"The QinetiQ hack may have compromised information vital to national security, such as the deployment and capabilities of the combat helicopter fleet...

"A few of the attacks have become public, including the 2007 theft from Lockheed Martin Corp. (LMT) of technology related to the F- 35, the most advanced U.S. fighter jet.

"Intelligence officials say the damage is far more extensive than the limited public accounting suggests, and that China-based hackers have acquired data on a large number of major weapons systems and many minor ones. One former intelligence official described internal Pentagon discussions over whether another Lockheed Martin fighter jet, the F-22 Raptor, could safely be deployed in combat, because several subcontractors had been hacked.

"In 2007-2008, the Pentagon gave secret briefings to about 30 defense companies alerting them to the aggressive spying effort and providing data to help defend against it, according to a person familiar with the process. The person did not know whether QinetiQ received the classified intelligence.

"Investigators eventually identified the Shanghai-based hackers that broke into QinetiQ as a crack team, nicknamed the Comment Crew by security experts, which has also hit major corporations and political figures, including the 2008 presidential campaigns of Barack Obama and John McCain. At least one other Chinese hacking team also may have been involved, according to a person familiar with the investigation."