Chinese hackers have targeted U.S. Navy contractors and subcontractors to steal classified military information, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal.
The hackers gained illegal access to contractors’ networks and stole a range of classified intelligence, including ship data and missile plans.
The attacks, which happened in the past 18 months, have spurred Navy Secretary Richard Spencer to order a thorough review of cybersecurity policies and vulnerabilities.
“Attacks on our networks are not new, but attempts to steal critical information are increasing in both severity and sophistication,” Mr. Spencer wrote in an internal memo in October, which The WSJ reviewed. “We must act decisively to fully understand both the nature of these attacks and how to prevent further loss of vital military information.”
The attacks affect all branches of the military, but Navy and Air Force contractors are seen as attractive targets because they deal with advanced weaponry and technology.
Chinese hackers go after contractors because often, they don’t have the resources needed to secure their networks.
In June, hackers stole secret plans to a supersonic missile for submarines, targeting an unnamed company that had a contract with the Navy in Rhode Island.
Hackers also went after colleges with research labs for advanced military tech. The Navy declined to say just how many attacks have happened in the last 18 months, except that it was “more than a handful.” It called the security breaches unacceptable.
Spencer’s memo didn’t implicate China by name, but there are certain classified sources and techniques that point to the country, U.S. officials said. Chinese officials denied any involvement.
The Navy said China wants to show that even if it can’t take on the U.S. in direct ship-to-ship or air encounters, it can still pose a certain threat.
“They are looking for our weak underbelly,” one defense official said. “An asymmetric way to engage the United States without ever having to fire a round.”