Chinese hackers have broken into the computer systems of three Israeli defence contractors instrumental in the construction of Israel’s Iron Dome missile defence system.
The hacks were allegedly carried out by the elite cyber operations group known as the “Comment Crew”, or “P.L.A. Unit 61398”, a group of cyber operatives with more than tangential inks to the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
The same group was responsible for a number of high profile hacks against American corporations, culminating in an indictment being filed in the US against 5 of the groups’ hackers earlier this year.
According to security journalist Brian Krebs, the attacks took place between 2011 and 2012, and involved the theft of “detailed schematics and specifications” for the Arrow III missile interceptor that forms the backbone of Israel’s Iron Dome.
Iron Dome is the most famous missile systems in the world. The $210 million (£123 million) system was developed by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems working jointly with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). The system is designed to intercept and destroy short-range rockets and artillery shells fired from distances of 2.5 miles (4km) to 43 miles (70km) away.
The infiltrations affected arms companies Elisra Group, Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, and the nature of the information stolen seems to indicate that the Chinese are interested in developing an Iron Dome-style missile system of their own. For instance, among the data that hackers stole from IAI is a 900-page document that provides detailed schematics and specifications for the Arrow 3 missile.
The Israeli government has credited Iron Dome with intercepting approximately one-fifth of the more than 2,000 rockets that Palestinian militants have fired at Israel during the current conflict.
“At the time, the issue was treated as required by the applicable rules and procedures,” IAI Spokeswoman Eliana Fishler told reporters.
“The information was reported to the appropriate authorities. IAI undertook corrective actions in order to prevent such incidents in the future.”
Neither Elisra nor Rafael responded to requests for comment.