WASHINGTON – Ten Chinese intelligence officials and hackers have been accused of stealing airframe engine technology from French and US companies, the Department of Justice announced Tuesday.
The alleged system ran from January 2010 to May 2015, targeting a turbofan engine that was developed in a partnership between one and one US airline unnamed French manufacturer and US company. The alleged crime coincided with a Chinese state-owned company working on the development of a similar engine, the department said.
Participants of the conspiracy allegedly hacked the French manufacturer who had an office in Suzhou (China). The hackers also attacked nameless US companies that manufactured parts for the Arizona, Massachusetts, and Oregon-based engine. The goal is to steal intellectual data and confidential business information about the engine, the department said.
"This action is another example of criminal efforts by the Chinese Ministry of Security (China) to win China's private trade steal," said US lawyer Adam Braverman. "The concerted effort to steal commercially available products rather than just buying should offend any company that invests talent, energy, and shareholder money in product development."
The Chinese Embassy in Washington did not respond immediately to a request for comment Tuesday.
The accused intelligence officers, Zha Rong and Chai Meng, worked for the Ministry of State Security of Jiangsu Province, which is headquartered in Nanjing and is a provincial arm of the government's Ministry of State Security. Rong was a departmental director overseeing the theft of intellectual property, and Meng was a department head, according to the 21-page indictment.
Alleged defendants included alleged hackers: Zhang Zhang-gui, Liu Chunliang, Gao Hong Kun, and Zhuang Xiaowei and Ma Zhiqi. Also accused were insiders at the French company: Gu Gen and Tian Xi.
Zhang Zhang-Gui was also charged with another computer hacker, Li Xiao, in a separate conspiracy allegedly invading a San Diego technology company.
The Prosecutions followed The October 10 announcement that a Chinese intelligence officer had been transferred to Ohio for attempting to steal corporate secrets related to aircraft engines. And on September 25, a large Illinois jury condemned a US Army lawyer, Ji Chaoqun, who was accused of acting as an agent for Chinese intelligence agencies.
"The threat of Chinese-sponsored hacking is real and unrelenting," he told John Brown, FBI Special Agent responsible for the San Diego office. "We work together to vigorously investigate and hold hackers accountable, despite their attempts to hide their illegal activities and identities."
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The first alleged hack began on January 8, 2010 with the infiltration of Capstone Turbine, a Los Angeles-based gas turbine manufacturer, to steal data and use the company's website to endanger others, the department said.
China's intelligence service also repeatedly attempted to hack into a San Diego-based technology company from August 2012 to January 2014, similarly stealing commercial information and using its website to endanger others.
From November 2013 to February 2014 Chinese nationals, led by the Tian Xi Intelligence Service and Gu Gen, worked at the French company and allegedly infected their computers with malware.
The hacking attempts lasted at least until May 2015, when an Oregon-based company that built parts for the turbofan engine identified and removed the conspirators' malware from their computer systems.
"This is just the beginning," said John Demers, deputy attorney general for national security, on the charges. "Together with our state partners, we will step up our efforts to protect America's ingenuity and investment."
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