Chinese government hackers have reportedly infiltrated the computers of a US navy contractor and stolen a large amount of highly sensitive data on undersea warfare.
Citing unnamed American officials, the Washington Post reported on Friday that the hackers had swiped 614 gigabytes of classified data including information related to sensors, submarine cryptographic systems and a closely held project known as Sea Dragon.
The officials declined to identify the compromised contractor but revealed that it had been working for the Naval Undersea Warfare Center, a military organization headquartered in Newport, Rhode Island, that conducts research and development for submarines and underwater weaponry.
Among the stolen data were also plans for the development of a supersonic anti-ship missile to be used on US submarines by 2020.
The security breaches apparently took place in January and February of this year and there has been an ongoing investigation led by the navy with the assistance of the FBI.
“Per federal regulations, there are measures in place that require companies to notify the government when a ‘cyber incident’ has occurred that has actual or potential adverse effects on their networks that contain controlled unclassified information. It would be inappropriate to discuss further details at this time,” the US navy told Reuters.
The Post said it had agreed to withhold some details about the compromised missile project after the navy said their release could harm national security.
“The officials said the material, when aggregated, would be considered classified, a fact that raises concerns about the Navy’s ability to oversee contractors tasked with developing cutting-edge weapons,” the newspaper reported.
US Commander Bill Speaks, a navy spokesman, declined to comment on the Post report, citing security reasons.
“Evolving cyber threats are serious matters and we are continuously bolstering our cybersecurity culture by focusing on awareness of the cyber threat, and the adequacy of our cyber defenses and information technology capabilities,” he said.
The revelation of the cyberattack comes amid rising tensions between Beijing and Washington on a range of issues including trade and military matters.
Last month, the Pentagon withdrew its invitation from China to join maritime drills in the Pacific over the country’s “continued militarization” of the South China Sea.
China has repeatedly criticized the US military presence in the Asia-Pacific region and suspects the military drills are part of efforts to contain Beijing.
Beijing has reiterated that its building of defense facilities on the disputed islands was to protect the country’s legitimate rights, and had nothing to do with militarization.
China is also locked in a trade dispute with the US over the imposition of hefty import tariffs on steel and aluminum.
Chinese officials have repeatedly warned against a trade war with the US but have said they are prepared for one.