Chinese government hackers breached the files of a U.S. Navy contractor to steal submarine warfare secrets earlier this year, The Washington Post reported Friday.
The news comes a day after the Trump administration announced it was dropping sanctions against Chinese telecommunications giant ZTE, despite concerns in Congress that the company’s cellphones and renewed business connections in America could pose a national security threat.
The hackers stole “massive amounts” of secret data from the Navy contractor — including plans to develop a supersonic anti-ship missile for U.S. subs, American intelligence officials told the Post.
The unidentified contractor works for the Naval Undersea Warfare Center, a military organization headquartered in Newport, Rhode Island. The highly sensitive information was stolen in January and February, the Post reported.
Much of the stolen material was linked to a secret project called Sea Dragon and included signals and sensor data, and submarine radio room information relating to cryptographic systems, according to the newspaper.
The “highly sensitive data” was held by the contractor in a network of unclassified information, triggering concerns about possibly lax policing of contractor security protections, according to the Post.
The White House announced Thursday that President Donald Trump, concerned about saving “lost” jobs in China, had agreed to drop sanctions against ZTE. The sanctions were imposed because ZTE breached a U.S. embargo on trade with Iran and other countries for six years and lied about it. The company will now be allowed to again buy components for its smartphones in the U.S. after paying a $1 billion fine and installing a U.S. oversight team.
Given China’s history of hacking and spying, however, Congress is concerned about a national security threat from the company through its inexpensive smartphones. U.S. officials have long been worried that ZTE equipment could be used by the Chinese government for espionage or sabotage.
Early last month, the Department of Defense banned the sale of ZTE phones, routers and other hardware on military bases at home and abroad, citing security risks.
“These devices may pose an unacceptable risk to the department’s personnel and mission,” Pentagon spokesperson Major Dave Eastburn told Reuters.