Asia Defense

New Snowden Documents Reveal Chinese Behind F-35 Hack

Experts have long argued that China has copied the F-35 design for its own fighter jets. Is this the proof?

Last week, Der Spiegel published a new tranche of documents provided to the German weekly magazine by the former U.S. National Security Agency contractor, Edward Snowden. The documents are the first public confirmation that Chinese hackers have been able to extrapolate top secret data on the F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter jet. According to sources, the data breach already took place in 2007 at the prime subcontractor Lockheed Martin. A U.S. government official recently claimed that as of now, “classified F-35 information is protected and remains secure.”

The fifth generation F-35 Lightning II is the most advanced fighter jet currently in production in the world. Experts have long argued that the design of China’s newest stealth fighter, the J-31, as well as the Chengdu J-20 fighter jet, are in parts influenced by the F-35. Bloomberg reports that the chairman of the Chinese subsidiary producing the J-31 even boasted that the Chinese plane is superior to the American product. “The J-31 will finish it off in the sky,” boasted AVIC Chairman Lin Zuomin referring to the F-35. However, most aviation experts are skeptical of this assertion.

The Snowden files outline the scope of Chinese F-35 espionage efforts, which focused on acquiring the radar design (the number and types of modules), detailed engine schematics (methods for cooling gases, leading and trailing edge treatments, and aft deck heating contour maps) among other things. The document claims that many terabytes of data specific to the F-35 joint strike fighter program were stolen.

The Byzantine Hades hacks – the code name given to the attacks by U.S. investigators who traced the hacks back to a specific unit of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army first revealed by Wikileaks – have also targeted other programs and “cause serious damage to DoD interests,” according to a top secret power point presentation. The Chinese hackers were also successful  in obtaining data on the B-2 stealth bomber, the F-22 jet, space-based lasers, missile navigation and tracking systems, as well as nuclear submarine/anti-air missile designs.

The power point furthermore lists at least 30,000 hacking incidents, more than 500 significant intrusions in DoD systems, at least 1600 DoD computers penetrated, and more than 600,000 user accounts compromised, in addition to over 300,000 user ID/passwords and 33,000 U.S. Air Force officer records compromised.  The presentation makes the point of equating the amount of data extracted (50 terabytes) to be equal to five Libraries of Congress. Overall damage is estimated to be more than $100 million.

As usual, the Chinese government has, denied any involvement in the attacks. “The allegations are totally groundless and unproven,” emphasized Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman,Hong Lei, during a press conference last week. “We, on the other hand, do have documents that show a certain country has a dishonorable record on cyber security.”