In December 2018, the United States government charged two Chinese nationals for a hacking attempt aimed at stealing sensitive information from at least 45 American tech companies. The hackers, who are part of a hacking group known as APT10, even targeted the NASA Goddard Space Center and Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The charges are likely part of a broader plan by the US administration to go after Chinese hackers.
Moving against Chinese hackers
Hackers from China have a long history of infiltrating and stealing trade secrets from U.S. technology businesses. Many of them are even covertly supported by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). This theft of IP results in annual losses of billions of dollars for the country. Several prominent personalities have publicly asked the U.S. administration to take stronger actions against such dirty tactics of China.
“Frankly, I don’t understand this… Absent [of] casualties, and that is killed and wounded, this is no different than Pearl Harbor. I mean, we are watching the destruction of hundreds of thousands, hundreds of millions and billions of dollars every year,” Fox Business host Lou Dobbs said in a statement (Newsweek). FBI director Christopher A Wray also stated that the U.S. is going to keep calling out China’s hacking attempts.
While the US government has mostly acted passively against the issue of Chinese IP theft over past years, Trump’s rise to the presidential position changed that as he actively went after such behavior. In fact, Trump’s demand that China stops stealing American IP and stop forcing U.S. companies to hand over critical technologies is what has led to the current trade war between the two nations. And by going after Chinese hackers, the U.S. administration is only furthering its plan to protect the country’s businesses from exploitation.
“By showing that it is willing to use legal instruments against these groups, the U.S. is hoping to shed light on the practices of these groups and ultimately deter them from future actions against non-state targets — even if none of the charged individuals are likely to be tried in the U.S. court any time soon,” according to the South China Morning Post.
Marriott and US Navy hacks
In addition to the APT10 hackers, two other large-scale Chinese hacking attempts also grabbed headlines in the latter part of last year — one against hotel chain Marriott and another against the United States Navy contractors.
Chinese hackers began stealing information from Marriott servers almost four years ago and reportedly stole personal details of more than 500 million customers. “Think of the depth of knowledge they could now have about travel habits or who happened to be in a certain city at the same time as another person… It fits with how the Chinese intelligence services think about things. It’s all very long range,” Robert Anderson, former FBI official, said to Reuters.
Several U.S. Navy contractors were also the target of hacking attempts by China over the past 18 months. The hackers are said to have stolen sensitive information like ship maintenance details, weapons data related to a supersonic anti-ship missile, and so on. The National Security Officials traced an IP address back to Hainan Island in China.
“Attacks on our networks are not new, but attempts to steal critical information are increasing in both severity and sophistication… We must act decisively to fully understand both the nature of these attacks and how to prevent further loss of vital military information,” U.S. Navy Secretary Richard Spencer said in a statement (Techspot).
A full investigation into the U.S. Navy’s cybersecurity policies was issued to identify and plug weaknesses. The Navy refrained from specifying exactly how many attacks it had to endure during the 18 months.