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China Suspected in Rash of Cyberattacks at Airbus

China Suspected in Rash of Cyberattacks at Airbus
Jeff Edwards

Industrial espionage is suspected to be behind a string of cyber-security breaches targeting European aerospace giant Airbus and several of its contractors. Sources close to the investigation say that the sophisticated computer attacks bear hallmarks of similar intrusions later attributed to Chinese state-sponsored hackers.

Citing unnamed sources, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) is reporting that investigatorsare zeroing in on industrial espionage by China as the likely source of this summer’s cyberattacks targeting Airbus and at least four of its contractors, including U.K-based Rolls-Royce and the German engineering firm Expleo. At least two French contractors closely associated with Airbus are also said to have been victims of the coordinated cyberattacks.

According to the report, the cyber-intrusions appear to have focused on exposing sensitive technical data for specific Airbus commercial aircraft components. In each case, the attacks are said to have exploited vulnerabilities in virtual private network (VPN) connections, which contractors use for sensitive communications with Airbus. In only one of these cases was Airbus itself targeted directly by the hackers.

Cybersecurity experts say that it is no accident that the hackers focused on Airbus contractors rather than attempting to infiltrate Airbus’s systems more directly. In many cases, the European Aerospace firm’s sub-contractors have access to much of the same sensitive technical information but do not have access to the same cyber-security resources.

“Very big companies (like Airbus) are very well protected, it’s very hard to hack them, while smaller companies will be a better target,” BoostAerospace security consultant Romain Bottan told the French news service.

Although cyber-defense experts have for years viewed China as a growing threat to security, the Chinese have repeatedly denied any involvement in computer espionage whatsoever.

“The Chinese government and the personnel in its institutions never engage in any form of cyberattack,” Chinese embassy spokesperson Zhu Haiquan said in response to claims that his country was behind a 2015 string of cyber attacks on U.S. airlines. “We firmly oppose and combat all forms of cyberattacks.”

U.S. Department of Defense cyber-security consultant Tony Lawrence indicated, however, that quite the opposite is true. “The Chinese are what I would call the bullies of cyberspace: Everybody knows what they’re doing, but nobody can stop them,” Lawrence retorted at the time.

View Comments (3)


  1. SamirD

    September 28, 2019 at 3:20 pm

    Nobody can stop them? Cut the cord–ban all Internet traffic originating or running through China. Isolate them into a cyberspace island and see how far they get.

    It is obvious these two-faced mf like to steal and play dirty. Why should any straight-laced individual or country want anything to do with them anymore? Manufacturing? Take it all back, work with other more honest countries and throw China back into past. Do I have some hate for them? Yep, I don’t like people who are like this no matter their ethnicity–there’s enough bad people with power in this world as it is.

  2. chrisfwm

    September 29, 2019 at 6:07 pm

    Attack on US companies? I would buy that, attack on Airbus? No.

    Unnamed sources? unlisted evidence? well, lets wait and see what the evidences are.

  3. FEasy

    September 30, 2019 at 12:58 am

    Chrisfwm, having your computer hacked or hotel room searched does happen in China if you’re there on official business. The motives vary: sometimes it appears to be simply to intimidate and sometimes it’s to collect information. But it happens to non-Americans for sure and hence this story seems entirely plausible to me.

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