Chinese espionage in the United States
China is alleged to have begun a widespread effort to acquire U.S. military technology and classified information and the trade secrets of U.S. companies. The Chinese government is accused of stealing trade secrets and technology, often from companies in the United States, to help support its long-term military and commercial development. China has been accused of using a number of methods to obtain U.S. technology (using U.S. law to avoid prosecution), including espionage, exploitation of commercial entities and a network of scientific, academic and business contacts. Although it uses a network of contacts to collect information used to benefit Chinese businesses, each bit of information does not invite scrutiny or prosecution by the U.S. government. Espionage cases include Larry Wu-Tai Chin, Katrina Leung, Gwo-Bao Min, Chi Mak and Peter Lee.
In addition to traditional espionage, China partners civilian Chinese companies with American businesses to acquire technology and economic data and uses cyber spying to penetrate the computer networks of U.S. businesses and government agencies; an example is the December 2009 Operation Aurora. U.S. law enforcement officials have identified China as the most active foreign power involved in the illegal acquisition of American technology that China wants. On May 19, 2014, the United States Department of Justice announced that a Federal grand jury had indicted five People's Liberation Army officers for stealing confidential business information and intellectual property from U.S. commercial firms and planting malware on their computers.
The People's Republic of China has used a number of methods to covertly gather intelligence in the United States. Individuals attempt to obtain targeted information from open sources such as libraries, research institutions and unclassified databases. Chinese travelers are recruited to carry out specific intelligence activities, and the Chinese government debriefs returnees from exchange programs, trade missions and scientific-cooperation programs. Chinese citizens may be coerced to cooperate in acting classes.
Partnerships between Chinese and foreign companies have been accused of existing solely to give Chinese defense industries access to advanced technology. The regulatory and commercial environment in China pressures American and other foreign companies to transfer technology to their Chinese partner companies as part of doing business in their country. Foreign companies provide technology, capital and manufacturing expertise to obtain access to Chinese markets, and high-tech equipment is purchased by Chinese agents operating front organizations in Hong Kong. Some items (computers, semiconductors, software, telecommunications devices, and integrated circuits) may be used for military or civilian purposes. China also uses state-run firms to purchase American companies with access to the targeted technology.
China also accesses foreign technology through industrial espionage, with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials rating China's industrial-espionage and theft operations as the leading threat to U.S. technological security. Between October 2002 and January 2003 five Chinese businessmen were accused of illegally shipping equipment and trade secrets from California to China, and U.S. officials prevented a Chinese man from shipping a new, high-speed computer used in classified projects (including nuclear-weapons development) from Sandia National Laboratories.
A 1999 United States House of Representatives Select Committee on U.S. National Security and Military and Commercial Concerns with the People's Republic of China report, known as the Cox Report, warned that China has stolen classified information on every thermonuclear warhead in the country's intercontinental ballistic missile arsenal. Information is collected through espionage, reviews of U.S. technical and academic publications and interaction with U.S. scientists. China tasks a large number of individuals to collect small pieces of information (which are collated and analyzed), and individual agents can more easily escape suspicion. U.S. government personnel suspect that China's intelligence-gathering efforts directed towards the development of modern nuclear weapons are focused on the Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore, Sandia and Oak Ridge National Laboratories. China is known to have stolen classified information on the W-56 Minuteman II ICBM, the W-62 Minuteman III ICBM, the W-70 Lance short-range ballistic missile (SRBM), the W-76 Trident C-4 submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), the W-78 Minuteman III Mark 12A ICBM, the W-87 Peacekeeper ICBM and the W-88 Trident D-5 SLBM and weapon-design concepts and features.
In 2016, the U.S. Justice Department charged China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN) with stealing nuclear secrets from the United States. The Guardian reported: "According to the US Department of Justice, the FBI has discovered evidence that China General Nuclear Power (CGN) has been engaged in a conspiracy to steal US nuclear secrets stretching back almost two decades. Both CGN and one of the corporation’s senior advisers, Szuhsiung Ho, have been charged with conspiring to help the Chinese government develop nuclear material in a manner that is in clear breach of US law."
China conducts political and corporate espionage to access the networks of financial, defense and technology companies and research institutions in the United States. Email attachments attempting to enter the networks of U.S. companies and organizations exploit security weaknesses in software. A recipient opens an email attachment, apparently from a familiar source, containing a program which embeds in the recipient's computer. The remotely controlled program allows an attacker to access the recipient's email, send sensitive documents to specific addresses and turns on such instruments as web cameras or microphones.
In January 2010, Google reported "a highly sophisticated and targeted attack on our corporate infrastructure originating from China that resulted in the theft of intellectual property from Google". According to investigators, the Google cyber-attack targeted the Gmail accounts of Chinese human-rights activists. At least 34 other companies have been attacked, including Yahoo, Symantec, Adobe, Northrop Grumman and Dow Chemical.
In January 2013, The New York Times reported that it was the victim of hacking attempts originating from China during the previous four months after it published an article on Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. According to the newspaper, the "attacks appear to be part of a broader computer espionage campaign against American news media companies that have reported on Chinese leaders and corporations."
Chinese cyber-attacks seem to target strategic industries in which China lags; attacks on defense companies target weapons-systems information, and attacks on technology companies seek source code critical to software applications. Operation Aurora emphasized what senior U.S. government officials have called an increasingly serious cyber threat to critical industries.
Amitai Etzioni of the Institute for Communitarian Policy Studies has suggested that cyberspace could be a fruitful realm for the United States and China to implement a policy of mutually assured restraint allowing both states to take measures they deem necessary for self-defense while agreeing to refrain from offensive steps. Such a policy would require oversight.
2010–2012 compromise of CIA network
Between 2010 and 2012, the Chinese government was able to arrest or kill between 18 and 20 CIA assets within China. A joint CIA/FBI counterintelligence operation, codenamed "Honey Bear", was unable to definitely determine the source of the compromises, though theories include the existence of a mole, cyber-espionage, or poor tradecraft. Mark Kelton, then the Deputy Director of the National Clandestine Service for Counterintelligence, was initially skeptical that a mole was to blame.
In January 2018, a former CIA officer named Jerry Chun Shing Lee[nb 1] was arrested at John F. Kennedy International Airport, on suspicion of helping dismantle the CIA's network of informants in China.
In 2007 the computer security company McAfee alleged that China was actively involved in cyberwarfare, accusing the country of cyber-attacks on India, Germany and the United States; China denied knowledge of these attacks. In September 2007 former senior U.S. information security official Paul Strassmann said that 735,598 computers in the U.S. were "infested with Chinese zombies"; computers infected in this manner can theoretically form a botnet capable of carrying out unsophisticated yet potentially dangerous denial-of-service attacks. A cyber spying network known as GhostNet, using servers primarily based in China, was reported as tapping into the classified documents of government and private organizations in 103 countries (including Tibetan exiles); China denied the claim.
In December 2009 and January 2010 a cyberattack, known as Operation Aurora, was launched from China on Google and over 20 other companies. Google said that the attacks originated from China, and it would "review the feasibility" of its business operations in China as a result of the incident. According to Google, at least 20 other companies in a variety of sectors were also targeted by the attacks. According to McAfee, "this is the highest profile attack of its kind that we have seen in recent memory."
In May 2014, a U.S. Federal grand jury indicted five Chinese military officers for cybercrimes and stealing trade secrets. It was alleged that the Chinese officers hacked into the computers of six U.S. companies to steal information that would provide an economic advantage to Chinese competitors, including Chinese state-owned enterprises. China said that the charges were "made-up", and the indictment would damage trust between the two nations. Although the indictments have been called relatively meaningless, they could limit travel by the officers due to U.S. extradition treaties.
In November 2017, the Department of Justice charged three Chinese employees of Guangzhou Bo Yu Information Technology Company Limited with hacking into corporate entities in the United States, including Siemens AG, Moody's Analytics, and Trimble Inc.
Since at least 2013, a Chinese espionage group called TEMP.Periscope by FireEye is reported to have been engaged in espionage against maritime-related subjects. FireEye reported that the information targeted was likely of commercial and economic importance.
The People's Liberation Army (PLA) was tied to economic espionage involving stolen business plans, intellectual property, and infringed on private conversations from Westinghouse Electric and United States Steel Corporation.
Chinese hackers have stolen information on the Patriot missile system, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, and the U.S. Navy's new Littoral combat ship. These blueprints of U.S. weapon and control systems were stolen to advance the development of Chinese weaponry.
The protection of the South China Sea is highly important to the U.S. because a Chinese Cyber Unit has already succeeded an invasion in the Philippine's government and military networks. Military documents, internal communications, and other sensitive materials related to dispute were lost due to the invasion. 
In January and February 2018, Chinese government hackers reportedly stole 614 gigabytes of data from a Naval Undersea Warfare Center-affiliated contractor. The compromised material reportedly included information on a project dubbed "Sea Dragon", as well as United States Navy submarine cryptographic systems and electronic warfare.
The New York Times reported that China and Russia are routinely eavesdropping on calls from an iPhone used by President Donald Trump, which China reportedly attempting to influence the President by identifying and influencing the people Trump is regularly in contact with.
According to the cybersecurity firm Area 1, hackers working for the People's Liberation Army Strategic Support Force compromised the networks of the AFL–CIO in order to gain information on negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
As part of a campaign called Cloudhopper, hackers working for the Ministry of State Security compromised the networks of IBM and Hewlett Packard Enterprise, and used that access to compromise those companies' clients. The Cloudhopper attacks began no later than 2014, and included targets in Brazil, Germany, India, Japan, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
In 2019, iDefense reported that Chinese hackers had launched cyberattacks on dozens of academic institutions in an attempt to gain information on technology being developed for the United States Navy. Some of the targets included the University of Hawaii, the University of Washington, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. The attacks have been underway since at least April 2017.
Alleged Supermicro compromise
In 2018, Bloomberg News reported that, as early as 2015, a specialized unit of the People's Liberation Army began inserting chips into Supermicro servers that allowed for backdoor access to them. Approximately 30 companies reportedly had their servers compromised via the chips, including Amazon (via AWS Elemental) and Apple Inc. The claim was strongly denied by both Amazon and Apple Inc.
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He did not maintain any internet presence under his name in English or Chinese, or under an alternative spelling Zhen Cheng Li. He may have used an alias or avoided using public internet accounts altogether.
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An indictment was unsealed today against Wu Yingzhuo, Dong Hao and Xia Lei, all of whom are Chinese nationals and residents of China, for computer hacking, theft of trade secrets, conspiracy and identity theft directed at U.S. and foreign employees and computers of three corporate victims in the financial, engineering and technology industries between 2011 and May 2017. The three Chinese hackers work for the purported China-based Internet security firm Guangzhou Bo Yu Information Technology Company Limited (a/k/a "Boyusec").
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- Chinese coordinated assault on the email accounts of journalists, academics, and human rights activists
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- Google reaction to Chinese cyber attack
- More examples of how China steals U.S. Military Secrets
- Britain warns businesses of the Chinese spying threat
- Vast Chinese espionage campaign
- Chinese spy buys Pentagon secrets