Chinese spies hacked into computers belonging to BAE Systems, Britain’s biggest defence company, to steal details about the design, performance and electronic systems of the West’s latest fighter jet, senior security figures have disclosed.
The Chinese exploited vulnerabilities in BAE’s computer defences to steal vast amounts of data on the $300 billion F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, a multinational project to create a plane that will give the West air supremacy for years to come, according to the sources.
The hacking attack has prompted fears that the fighter jet’s advanced radar capabilities could have been compromised.
Details of the attack on BAE have been a closely guarded secret within Britain’s intelligence community since it was first uncovered nearly three years ago. But they were disclosed by a senior BAE executive during a private dinner in London for cyber security experts late last year.
One of those present said: “The BAE man said that for 18 months, Chinese cyber attacks had taken place against BAE and had managed to get hold of plans of one of its latest fighters.”
BAE said: “We don’t comment on allegations of cyber attacks against the company. BAE Systems’ own cyber security capability can detect, prevent and rectify such attacks.”
A former US official, speaking last week on condition of anonymity, said the BAE Systems element of the JSF program had “almost certainly” been penetrated.
However, he cautioned: “There are lots of aspects of weapons development. At least some aspects of it (the F-35 project) were targeted successfully by the Chinese. They didn’t steal everything that was on that airplane, just some aspects.”
The Chinese embassy in London described the claims as a “baseless allegation”.
It said China condemned all forms of online crime.
Suspicions that the Joint Strike Fighter had been targeted by Chinese hackers first emerged in the US media in 2009.