Thursday, June 01, 2023

According to security expert Brian Krebs, writing in Krebs on Security, Chinese hackers have gained access to crucial information re­lated to Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense sys­tem. Iron Dome has been successfully inter­cepting rockets fired by Hamas from the Gaza Strip into Israel, protecting the Israeli popula­tion from harm.

Krebs writes that according to Cyber En­gineering Services [CyberESI], these latest cy­ber-attacks, to steal crucial information re­garding the missile defense system, were made by using “sophisticated tools” which resemble those used by Chinese hackers to steal information from U.S. defense firms.

According to CyberESI, more than 700 documents were stolen from three leading Israeli defense contractors: Israel Aerospace Industries [IAI], Elisra Group, and Rafael Ad­vanced Defense Systems. The stolen data were “in the form of Word documents, Pow­erPoint presentations, spread sheets, email messages, files in portable document format (PDF), scripts, and binary executable files.” Cy­berESI also reported that the data included in­formation on other systems such as the Arrow missile defense system and Unmanned Aeri­al Vehicles.

CyberESI suggests that this hacking was done by the Chinese state-sponsored hack­ing group known as the “Comment Crew”. Members of this group, also known by the of­ficial designation “People’s Liberation Army Unit 61398,” were charged in May by the U.S. Justice Dept. “with a raft of criminal hacking and espionage offenses against U.S. firms”.

“We allege that members of Unit 61398 conspired to hack into computers of six US victims to steal information that would pro­vide an economic advantage to the victim’s competitors, including Chinese, state-owned enterprises,” said John P Carlin of the FBI when announcing the charges in May.

According to John Lindsay, a researcher with the University of California, the Chinese breach and theft of this classified informa­tion could either be the result of routine espi­onage practice, or it could be China’s attempt to gain information specifically regarding the missile defense system. The latter claim is clearly more likely, given China’s efforts at de­veloping its own ballistic missile defense sys­tem. China is also reported to be working on interceptor missiles and anti-satellite [ASAT] weapons.

According to Uzi Rubin, former head of missile defense at Israel’s Defense Min­istry, “[t]he Chinese have been doing that to all defense contractors in the West.”

John Lindsay, as well, has said, “The Chi­nese style of espionage is more like vacuum cleaner than a closely-directed telescope,” al­though seemingly a highly-targeted vacuum cleaner, and that Beijing goes only after lead­ing firms in particular industries.

According to Israel Aerospace Industries, the Chinese hacking is “old news.” IAI spokes­woman Eliana Fisher further clarified that “[t] he information was reported to the appropri­ate authorities. IAI undertook corrective ac­tions in order to prevent such incidents in the future.”

In 2000, there were reports that Chi­nese government had hired hackers to steal information from an the Los Alam­os nuclear weapons research laborato­ry in New Mexico, and obtained informa­tion from the laboratory on every nuclear warhead. Those included US W-56 war­heads used for their Minuteman II, W62 and W-78 warheads from Minuteman III, W70 warhead for Lance SRBMs, W76 war­head for the Trident SLBMs and W87 for Peacekeeper. A report from 1999 also con­firmed that China gained access to information regarding the W-88 nuclear warheads and their miniaturization process from the same laboratory.

For the future of the free world, the U.S. and the international community must put an immediate end to China’s reg­ular practices of cyber espionage and theft of classified information from the defense industries of other countries.

Debalina Ghoshal is an Associate Fellow at the Centre for Air Power Studies, New Delhi, India.

By Debalina Ghoshal /www. Gatestoneinstitute.org

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