Starting with 2007, at least 30 US defense contractors have been targeted by the Comment Crew, the notorious hacker collective that’s believed to be funded by the Chinese government. One of these companies was QinetiQ North America.
QinetiQ provides the US government with software used by the military, drones, robots, helicopters, satellites, weapon systems, and many other technologies that contribute to national security.
According to an extensive report from Bloomberg, the hackers targeted the company since at least 2007. Since at least 2009, it’s believed they’d been continuously operating in the organization’s networks, stealing a wide range of classified documents.
In one of the attacks, that took place in 2009, the hackers raided at least 151 machines of the firm’s Technology Solutions Group (TSG) over a 251-day period, stealing 20 gigabytes of data before being blocked.
1.3 million pages of documents, including ones containing highly sensitive military information, were stolen at the time.
In the first two and half years, it’s believed the Comment Crew – whose activities have been detailed in a recent report published by security firm Mandiant – stole over 13,000 internal passwords.
In 2010, HBGary, the security firm hacked in 2011 by Anonymous, was hired by QinetiQ along with Terremark to investigate the attacks. HBGary almost immediately identified malicious software on most of QinetiQ’s computers.
The security companies managed to clean up QinetiQ’s systems, but this only lasted for a couple of months, after which the FBI notified the contractor about another data breach.
Some say China might have already put to good use the information stolen from the firm. In April 2012, the Chinese military unveiled a bomb disposal robot that was very similar to QinetiQ’s Dragon Runner.
The technology for the Chinese robot might have been obtained from the computer of a specialist that focused on the embedded software on microchips that controlled military robots. His computer was among those infected.
Interestingly, in May 2012, QinetiQ was awarded a $4.7 million (€3.6 million) cybersecurity contract from the US Transportation Department.