The Chinese government is aggressively pursuing U.S. leadership in drone technology – even possibly enlisting hackers to access American classified information.
The New York Times cites cybersecurity experts in reporting Shanghai-based hackers have targeted at least 20 foreign defense contractors over the past two years in an apparent attempt to obtain technology “behind the United States’ clear lead in military drones.”
“I believe this is the largest campaign we’ve seen that has been focused on drone technology,” Darien Kindlund, manager of threat intelligence at the California-based cybersecurity firm, FireEye, told The Times.
“It seems to align pretty well with the focus of the Chinese government to build up their own drone technology capabilities.”
FireEye has reportedly dubbed the hackers' theft campaign “Operation Beebus,” and traced the campaign's efforts to a so-called command and control node at the URL bee.businessconsults.net.
The Times cites “cybersecurity experts” as linking that address to “the Comment Crew,” a purported Chinese hacker unit another cybersecurity company called Mandiant referenced in a February report as a known component of the People’s Liberation Army, based in Shanghai.
For its part, Chinese officials contacted by the newspaper denied the Chinese government was behind the hacking attempts, even reportedly saying the Chinese state has been targeted by hackers, as well.
What doesn’t seem to be in doubt is China’s apparent build-up of its own drones corps.
The Times cites a Taiwan Defense Ministry report noting the Chinese Air Force possesses more than 280 drones, with other government branches laying claim to thousands of additional units.
“The military significance of China’s move into unmanned systems is alarming,” a 2012 report by the Defense Science Board, a Pentagon advisory committee, reportedly states.