SYDNEY, Oct 12, (AFP): Sensitive data about Australia’s F-35 stealth fighter and P-8 surveillance aircraft programmes were stolen when a defence subcontractor was hacked using a tool widely used by Chinese cyber criminals, officials said Thursday.
The 50-person aerospace engineering firm was compromised in July last year but the national cyber security agency, the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD), only became aware of the breach in November, technology website ZDNet Australia reported. Some 30GB of “sensitive data” subjected to restricted access under the US government’s International Traffic in Arms Regulations rules were stolen, ASD’s Mitchell Clarke told a security conference Wednesday according to ZDNet. Clarke, who worked on the case and did not name the subcontractor, said information about the F-35, the US’ latest generation of fighter jets, as well as the P8, an advanced submarine hunter and surveillance craft, were lifted. Another document was a wireframe diagram of one of the Australian navy’s new ships, where a viewer could “zoom in down to the captain’s chair”.
The hackers used a tool called “China Chopper” which according to security experts is widely used by Chinese actors, and had gained access via an internet-facing server, he said. In other parts of the network, the subcontractor also used internet-facing services that still had their default passwords “admin” and “guest”. Those brought in to assess the attack nicknamed the hacker Alf after a character on the popular Australian soap “Home and Away”, Clarke said. The three month period where they were unaware of the breach they dubbed “Alf’s Mystery Happy Fun Time”.