A US Navy contractor has their servers breached by Chinese hackers early this year.
The hackers stole a number of detailed plans related to the development of a new submarine-launched anti-ship missile, apparently called “project Sea Dragon.” The Department of Defense described the stolen missile designs as a new “disruptive offensive capability” which will be retrofitted onto “an existing Navy platform.”
The Washington Post, who first reported on this story, have described the project Sea Dragon device as a “supersonic anti-ship missile” which will be used by submarines. Development on the project began in 2012 and testing was scheduled for later this year.
The Washington Post also reported that hackers stole “signals and sensor data, submarine radio room information relating to cryptographic systems, and the Navy submarine development unit’s electronic warfare library.”
In other words, these hackers took us for all we’re worth.
This isn’t the first time that Chinese hackers have stolen military hardware documents either. In 2009 and 2014 Chinese hackers breached US military systems and stole information related to the design of the new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
These attacks on US databases are a form of aggression known as “cyberwarfare.” And lately the Chinese have been stepping up their cyberwar effort.
The People’s Liberation Army now has dedicated squads of hackers who launch cyberattacks to steal our technology and spy on us. And although the Chinese government has denied it, it’s been widely reported that they have encouraged “patriotic hackers” to make attacks on the US and other Western powers.
All of this effort on the part of the Chinese is probably a part of their larger strategy to expand their sphere of control over all of East Asia. The Chinese have laid claim to the South China Sea, and have been staging military drills and building artificial islands to extend their territorial claims.
None of this would be too troubling if the Chinese were just a regional bully flexing their muscles over their weak neighbors, sort of like Russia. But China and the Southeast Asian area in general are a major source of global trade. Roughly a third of all global shipping passes through the South China Sea.
That’s why China wants to claim the South China Sea as part of its territory. Complete control over that waterway would ensure that Chinese dominion in Asia will never be challenged.
The US, as the global defender of the world’s seaways (a role that has more or less fallen to us by default, as nobody else seems ready to step up) necessarily has a major interest in the South China Sea. Given the extent of our operations in the area, this most recent hack is really troubling.
For one thing, it seems as though a lot of our codes and secrets were stolen in addition to the Sea Dragon plans. We will now surely have to change those codes and protocols, and almost certainly have already done so.
But even having access to the old date will have allowed the Chinese to develop some countermeasures, and figure out the way we structure our plans and how we keep those plans and deployments a secret.
Chinese spying is nothing new; it’s believed that they’ve already compromised a number of other crucial weapons systems. These include the Patriot missile system, the high-tech THAAD missile defense network (which we recently installed in Korea), the Aegis system used by the Navy to defend against ballistic missiles, and perhaps many more.
China has a long history of copying our weapons designs; their habit of stealing our military technology is almost as bad as their habit of stealing our civilian technology. (Examples include trimaran ships which are obviously based off of America’s newest ship designs.)
The main problem right now is that, while there are a multitude of high-value US weapons systems for the Chinese to steal, there’s not much that we can steal back in return. The Chinese are universally behind the curve in terms of their military tech; that’s why the “steal what the other guy designed” strategy is so effective for them.
It’s not like our hackers can break into their servers in retaliation; the only plans of value to be found there would just be copies of our own.
The US military needs to focus more resources on defending its secret weapons designs. What’s the point of spending billions to design these weapons systems if your geopolitical rivals are just going to steal them from you anyway?