back to article Chinese hackers switch tactics for spying on Russian jet makers

Chinese state-sponsored hackers are targeting military and aerospace interests in Russia and Belarus. Since the summer of 2016, a group began using a new downloader known as ZeroT, spear-phishing emails to install the PlugX remote access Trojan (RAT), according to security researchers at Proofpoint. In previous campaigns, the …

  1. Alan Brown Silver badge

    similar looking aircraft

    Thanks to the laws of aerodynamics and materials science, there are only so many ways you can lay out an aircraft performing any given role.

    There's not much difference to the casual observer between most fighters in any given size, whether french, american russian, european or chinese, in the same way that apart from styling there's virtually no difference between most cars of any given size on the road.

    Some of the chinese designs are more adventurous than western or russian versions (one example being the box wing on their drones, which gives greater performance at 60,000 feet). Everyone spies on everyone and it's overly simplistic to write china off as copycats.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: similar looking aircraft

      Thanks to the laws of aerodynamics and materials science, there are only so many ways you can lay out an aircraft performing any given role.

      Up to a point, but there's a question of HOW similar the Chinese version is. Rafale, Gripen, Typhoon are all somewhat similar designs, but I don't think I'd conclude that they were the product of espionage, whereas some aircraft designs are so similar that you have to conclude that they are copies.

      Mind you, when it comes to keeping up with the military Joneses, the Chinese have a long way to go before they overshadow my favourite modern aircraft, the Iranian Q313 "stealth fighter"......

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: similar looking aircraft

      Aerodynamically speaking, I'd say that there are currently four basic forms: fuselage-based, lifting body augmented, flying wing (FW) and blended wing-body (arguably, BWB is a subclass of flying wing).

      As far as fighters are concerned, fuselage-based is the oldest form and is used in all of the current U.S. fighters (F-15, F-16, F/A-18, F-22 & F-35). Lifting body augmented was first used, in a fighter application, in the U.S. F-14, and was also employed in the YF-23, but now is only used in the Russian MiG-29, SU-27 family & Sukhoi T-50.

      In the context of fighters, both flying wing and Blended wing-body suffer from poor yaw control, but are being tried in some 'agile' drones.

      The important thing though, is that any spying will be directed at the electronics fit, not the aerodynamics, and so will not be reflected in the appearance or form of the aircraft.

      The appeal of stealing details of the F-35 is that it will make it possible to screw not only its flight & fighting systems but also its logistics & maintenance systems.

      1. SkippyBing Silver badge

        Re: similar looking aircraft

        'Lifting body augmented was first used, in a fighter application, in the U.S. F-14'

        And the F-15, it's not as obvious as on the Tomcat but the fuselage section between the engines provides a decent amount of lift. Certainly enough for the Israelis to land one with only one wing. I have read that the F-35 also relies on a certain amount of body lift which isn't inconceivable looking at the width of it.

        1. x 7

          Re: similar looking aircraft

          Did the body of the Sea Vixen generate lift?

          1. SkippyBing Silver badge

            Re: similar looking aircraft

            'Did the body of the Sea Vixen generate lift?'

            Good point, I'd be stunned if it didn't, I mean it's basically a wing with a pod for the aircrew and a couple of booms to give the tailplane a lever arm.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: similar looking aircraft

              "'Did the body of the Sea Vixen generate lift?'

              Good point, I'd be stunned if it didn't, I mean it's basically a wing with a pod..."

              Indeed, the Sea Vixen is more flying wing than lifting body but it will get some lift from the center section, just not a significant amount as it would only be generated from a fairly narrow strip along the center line - the closeness of the engines to each other leaves little lift area between them.

              Flying-wing designs can have some very unpleasant high AoA departure characteristics making them unsuited to the fighter realm - have a read about how Edwards AFB got its current name.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: similar looking aircraft

          Re lifting body augmented: "And the F-15, it's not as obvious as on the Tomcat but the fuselage section between the engines provides a decent amount of lift"

          Look again - the F-15's engines are too close together, with negligible lift area between them; the intakes are just conventionally mounted either side of the cockpit nacelle with no real upper body shaping to provide lift. The same applies to the F-35 but, being single engined, it has even less taper along the center-line - even a plank of wood will provide lift if given +ve AoA.

        3. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: similar looking aircraft

          It's worth noting that the F14 and F15 were both "cheaper faster" aircraft using lessons from the F-111B program.

          The importance of that is that the F-111B was almost as large a clusterfuck as the F35 project, but eventually common sense prevailed and it was scrapped. It appears that amongst the lessons learned by aircraft makers was "how to ensure your program doesn't get killed off"

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: similar looking aircraft

        The appeal of stealing details of the F-35 is that it will make it possible to screw not only its flight & fighting systems but also its logistics & maintenance systems.

        The evidence is pretty clear that Lockheed Martin are doing a sterling job of screwing the flight, fighting, logistics and maintenance systems on their own, without any Chinese help.

      3. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: similar looking aircraft

        "The appeal of stealing details of the F-35 is that it will make it possible to screw not only its flight & fighting systems but also its logistics & maintenance systems"

        That and knowing what it's weaknesses are. It's pretty clear that noone would want to copy a tubby underpowered thing that handles badly and blows its radar stealthiness by having to fly with the bomb bay doors open most of the time in order to avoid overheating.

        The americans didn't want the MiG-31 to build their own one, they wanted to find out what made it tick and how to work around it. The factor of using vacuum tubes was mindblowing to them and made them think about emp resistance in their own aircraft.

        That's _why_ everybody spies on everybody else (and if you think 'allies' aren't as busy pilfering data about each others' systems or industrial processes, you're pretty slow)

    3. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: similar looking aircraft

      Everyone spies on everyone and it's overly simplistic to write china off as copycats.

      It's not just weapons. They copy damned near anything and everything and then sell it to the world. Their law says only native Chinese can coyright and they will only enforce native Chinese copyright. Everyone else is ignored. Even now, there is fighting going on internally as the Chinese copyright/patent laws are not being enforced and companies are stealing from each other.

  2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    An impressive list

    China basically has every important weapon type the rest of the world has. Including nukes, but not aircraft carriers (unless I'm mistaken).

    Chinese weapons not battle-tested ? If the jets fly, they'll reach a target. I have no doubt the Chinese are as intent on testing and training as any other Air Force, and nobody has ever said that Chinese are dumb.

    But all this is rhetoric. We've passed the stage where a major country could declare war on another major country - we all know that such a war will be devastating, maybe to the point of annihilation. China, like Russia, will continue to be treated with the utmost caution so as to not push them too far.

    As for the US, who knows what the Orange One will consider is "too far" ?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: An impressive list

      " Including nukes, but not aircraft carriers (unless I'm mistaken)."

      On it's way.

      https://www.yahoo.com/news/comes-chinas-first-home-built-180207705.html

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: An impressive list

        not only 2 aircraft carriers (one russion, one being built), but it has working antiship ballistic missiles (DF21-D and DF24) which are believed to be more capable than anything the US or Russia have.

        ASBMs make aircraft carriers as obsolete as aircraft carriers made battleships - you don't need to have a nuke onboard, or even to destroy the target. If you can put a big enough hole in the flight deck then the entire fleet will keep its distance lest they have to return home unexpectedly(*) and stay there for several months.

        (*) Wounding the enemy is more effective at tying up resources than killing them. If you wound a man or damage a ship, resources have to be expended to save him or it (6 people to recover one wounded solider is the rule of thumb, factor on tying up a dockyard for a long time repairing a ship). If you sink or kill your opponent then they leave it where it is and keep going. On top of that the psychological effects of having one of your own screaming his nuts off in pain can't be underestimated.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: An impressive list

      China, like Russia, will continue to be treated with the utmost caution so as to not push them too far.

      I think both the US and the Russkies have hardly treated each other with caution, and if anything the US have been particularly aggressive, eg meddling in Ukrainian politics to the point of provoking the Russian invasion, moving tanks 5,000 miles round the globe to park on the Poland/Russia border, flying military aircraft right along the boundary of Russian airspace, etc. I'm under no illusions about the Russian provocations and interventions, and China's outlandish territorial claims to the South China Sea are a provocation of enormous magnitude.

      Seems to me that there's no caution at all, just an expectation by the major powers that they can do roughly what they want so long as they don't directly attack another major power with military force. OTOH it is absolutely fine for the major powers to invade any non-nuclear armed country they choose - which seems to be an approach that (in the modern age) the US are cheerleaders for (aided and abetted by Britain?).

      Of course, all of this is bad news for nuclear non-proliferation, because the obvious lesson is that you don't get invaded if you've got the big stick. Why end up like Saddam or Gadaffi, when you can build your own talisman to protect against invasion? Despite the claims about WMD, it is obvious to a two year old that nobody would have attacked Iraq if they actually believed that the country had a working WMD arsenal, since it would undoubtedly have been used.

      Back to espionage: Does it matter? No. The big guys still aren't going to fight each other, and the US and Russians will be just as keen to steal any Chinese technology when the opportunity exists.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: An impressive list

        Poland and eastern europe in general is a bit of a stretch as far as provoking the Russians is concerned.

        The years 1956 and 1968 should be borne in mind. NATO stayed well back from the eastern borders since 1990 to avoid any issues until the Russians started making the Poles and others nervous that history might repeat.

    3. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: An impressive list

      Certain functionaries in the US administration have already commented that they expect a war with China. The islands China has taken over will probably be the excuse.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: An impressive list

        It's been predicted since the 1960s (or earlier) that there would eventually be an oil war in the South China Sea centred on the Spratley Islands (there's not much under the Spratleys but there's a lot in surrounding continental shelves)

        The only real questions are "who will show up?" and "Can it be avoided by making oil irrelevant?"

        The thing about wars is that they're usually about trade (most of them in the last 400 years up to WW1 and it's arguable that WW1 went on so long because UK/Germany had been gearing up for a trade war for 30 years beforehand), pillage and plunder (most of them before that - war was only done if profitable) or resources (oil and water primarily). There was an odd period around 1000 years ago when religion was supposedly a primary motivator, but plunder played a large part in the attraction.

        Just about every conflict since WW2 has been about oil or independence from colonialism - even the proxy wars that the superpowers engaged in.

        Looking closer at oil wars, they're really about cheap energy and access to it. If a better energy source source can be developed (preferably soon, carbon dioxide is looking to be a much worse problem than simplistic warming issues) and is replicable enough, many wars would simply go away.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    That is worrying...

    This is worrying on a couple of levels.

    1. This means that they consider something worth stealing at least as much as in F35 and friends. Maybe Jane's Defense has a point regarding Russia catching up technically.

    2. They have failed to correctly reproduce it from the 3 aircraft they bought on a contract for 130 before canceling the rest of the contract. That is same as 1 actually, just this means that the tech in the 3 they had delivered was significantly higher than their copying acumen. So high they they could not reverse engineer it even with an example in their hands. Again, maybe Jane's Defense has a point.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: That is worrying...

      Not only the MiG-35, but the utterly bonkers MiG-41 is under development., due for release around 2020 and the even more crazy Ayaks.

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

        Re: That is worrying...

        You can't just go any copy high tech without a long-term investment in the very idiosyncratic "production network" and "latent knowledge". These ain't the times of cruisers-with-steam-boilers any more. I don't understand why the chinese don't get this.

        Also, I though Russia and China were looking for réapprochment? Seems to be going badly, then.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: That is worrying...

          These ain't the times of cruisers-with-steam-boilers any more. I don't understand why the chinese don't get this.

          I do. In any state sponsored espionage, it's a combination of fuckwit nationalist politicians, military jar-heads, and spooks who don't get out enough who come up with the idea of stealing other people's designs and then making a variant on them.

          If they stopped and asked proper, qualified engineers who knew about designing shit and making it work, and then actually producing it, and maintaining it, they'd be told that stealing other people's designs was a shit-headed scheme. But in China (and Russia back in the day) not only do the engineers and manufacturers only find out after the event, they're also in grave personal danger if they then say "Don't be bloody stupid, we don't have half the skills or materials to make this fucker!".

        2. Ogi

          Re: That is worrying...

          > Also, I though Russia and China were looking for réapprochment? Seems to be going badly, then.

          There are no friends between the powerful countries of the world, only alliances of convenience.

          Everyone spies on everyone, for example the USA steals IP From the EU, which pinches it from the USA as well.

          Arguably what they are doing is natural. The concept of IP is unnatural. Humans have taken ideas from each other for a long as we have been around. Even monkeys, if they see another monkey do something that gets them more food, will copy the monkey.

          It is only recently (in the timeline of bipedal life on earth) that we have entered into the concept of forbidding people from copying a good idea "because money".

          Besides, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery :-)

          1. Ogi

            Re: That is worrying...

            Also, don't forget after independence the USA basically kick started its economy by ignoring all British and European IP and making clones for themselves much cheaper, until they built up enough industry and capital to be able to design and build their own stuff. Funnily enough, after that they were all for IP protection, I wonder why :P

        3. codger

          Re: You can't just go any copy high tech without a long-term investment

          With all respect, no-one has a longer investment horizon than the Chinese.

          Think of a typical large Western industrial corporation with a thousand engineers.

          Think of the equivalent Chinese corporation, with TEN thousand engineers. Really big state-funded research-y type places comparable to IBM, Boeing, General Dynamics, Microsoft, General Electric , could have a hundred thousand engineers, all growing by leaps and bounds as we in the West retrench.

          And Chinese engineers have high IQs, do not consider Crystal meth as a type of sweet, and probably have management that is allowed to manage smart people instead of <quote>"micromanaging every half-wit I can afford"</quote>, see Scott Adams Dilbert 2013-11-23

    2. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: That is worrying...

      "This is worrying on a couple of levels."

      1: You assume China and Russia are friendly. They've been to war twice in the last century.

      2: You're also assuming the chinese want to copy the aircraft rather than simply work out what's needed to take or keep them out of the air

      3: Russia and the USA have "domestic" and "export" tech. Russia might have sold china a few Mig-35s but they won't be equipped with the same technology that the domestic versions get. In the same way USA export version F35s are inferior to domestic ones (and this extends downrange to things like F15/16s, the export versions are significantly less capable than the domestic units)

  4. Holtsmark

    Not often mentioned when F35 cost- and schedule- overruns are mentioned:

    https://defensetech.org/2012/02/06/did-chinese-espionage-lead-to-f-35-delays/

    1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge

      Correct - but still a very bad excuse to use, for various reasons.

  5. Flocke Kroes Silver badge
    Joke

    Look on the bright side

    We could save a huge pile of cash by buying F35s from China.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Look on the bright side

      We could save a huge pile of cash by buying F35s from China.

      Won't help the UK: You don't think they'd be daft enough to copy and build the B variant do you?

      If they stole the B designs, it would only be by mistake, or to laugh at them.

    2. Swarthy Silver badge
      Go

      Re: Look on the bright side

      And they might actually work.

      (Once you re-solder all of the joints, at least)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Look on the bright side

        And they might actually work. Once you re-solder all of the joints, at least

        I doubt the cheap Chinese F35s would have that problem, because the Chinese probably haven't copied the idiot Europeans and banned lead in solder.

  6. Tikimon Silver badge
    Devil

    Serve them right!

    Copied the F-35, did they? That transgression becomes its own punishment!

    I wonder what other horribly expensive failures we can trick them into spending billions on?

    1. Ogi

      Re: Serve them right!

      > I wonder what other horribly expensive failures we can trick them into spending billions on?

      Well we have managed to convince them that the idea of giving out cheap central bank backed mortgages to inflate the price of property is a wise investment idea and the path to economic prosperity.

      In the last few years, and even as we speak, their property prices in the big cities are skyrocketing off cheap loans, while they are frantically building new "affordable" housing in ghost cities where virtually nobody wants to buy due to the hassle of commuting, and because they won't get the same ROI as a trendy spot in the big city.

      They have blown such a massive asset bubble that now people are trying to get their wealth out of the country before it collapses (into places like Vancouver, hence the explosive house price bubble over there).

      The next "good idea" is us attempting to convince them to transition to a "consumer" economy, which means cheap credit to the masses to they can spend it on disposable trinkets and dig themselves into a hole they can never get out of. We are hard at work trying to convince them this is a good idea, because it will allow an increase in "money supply", resulting in more goods purchased, more income earned, and people might actually be able to buy their way out of the debt hole they created (yeah right).

  7. x 7

    just nuke the fekkers

    you know it makes sense

  8. JJKing Bronze badge
    WTF?

    They're dumb.

    nobody has ever said that Chinese are dumb.

    Well then, I will say it, the Chinese are dumb (Govt that is). Any country that has the Winter Olympics in a location where there is no snow is dumb. That includes you Russia, though some of Rasputin's friends got rich from that.

    The Chinese are just doing what the Russian did for many, many years. Who remembers that wonderful 4 engine bomber that looks suspiciously just like the B-29? How about the Tupolov 154? And what was that one that looked like a VC-10?

    Damn was this article about thieving bastards or Copyright theft?

  9. JJKing Bronze badge
    Pint

    Fixed

    The islands China has taken over built will probably be the excuse.

    There, FTFY.

    1. mhenriday
      Boffin

      Re: Fixed

      As Vietnam, the Philippines,Malaysia, and Taiwan had previously done earlier in the South China Sea and which, for example, Vietnam continues to do - and as Japan had also done in close proximity to the region - in 2014 China began extending islands and building on reefs and shoals which it claimed with the energy it typically brings to construction projects. Whether its doing so will provided an excuse for a US administration which seems bent on going to war with China (or at least using the threat of war to get a better «deal») or, on the contrary, whether the facilities placed on these islands will deter the US from military adventures in the region is difficult to predict ; Mr Trump, like Mr Nixon before him, seems to base a good part of his strategy on being unpredictable....

      Let us hope that at least some of us survive to critique the aftermath....

      Henri

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