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Chinese cyber espionage: a data leak reveals the secrets of their hackers

Unprecedented Data Leaks Expose Chinese Cyber Espionage Programs

Following an unprecedented data leak from a Beijing regime hacking service provider, the secrets of Chinese cyberespionage are revealed. The I-Soon company is said to have infiltrated dozens of strategic targets around the world. This is what you will discover here by reading this brief cyberculture. Unprecedented data leaks reveal China’s cyberespionage program.
Following an unprecedented data leak from a Beijing regime hacking service provider, the secrets of Chinese cyberespionage are revealed. Based on the analysis of this data, it appears that the I-Soon company has infiltrated dozens of strategic targets around the world. This is what you will discover here by reading this brief Cyberculture.

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Read the secrets of Chinese cyber espionage revealed by an unprecedented data leak, written by Jacques Gascuel, a pioneer of contactless, serverless and databaseless sensitive data security solutions. Stay up to date and secure with our frequent updates..

Chinese cyber espionage I-Soon: A data leak reveals the secrets of their hackers

Chinese cyber espionage poses a serious threat to the security and stability of the world. Many countries and organizations face hackers who try to steal sensitive information, disrupt critical infrastructure, or influence political outcomes. One of the most active and sophisticated cyber espionage actors is China, which has a large and diverse hacking program. But how does China conduct its cyber operations? What methods, targets, and objectives does it have? And how can we protect ourselves from its attacks?

In this brief, we will explore these questions of Chinese cyber espionage, based on a recent data leak that revealed the inner workings of a Chinese cybersecurity vendor working for the Chinese government. The vendor, I-Soon, is a private contractor that operates as an advanced persistent threat (APT) for hire, serving the Chinese Ministry of Public Security (MPS). The leaked data, published on GitHub, contains hundreds of documents that document I-Soon’s Chinese cyber espionage activities, from staff complaints to hacking tools and services.

We will also look at some of the solutions that exist to counter the cyber espionage threat, both from a technical and a strategic perspective. We will focus on the solutions developed by Freemindtronic, an Andorran company that specializes in security and encryption technologies, based on the NFC HSM (Near Field Communication and Hardware Security Module) technology. We will also examine the means of counter espionage against the methods of I-Soon, which are varied and sophisticated.

I-Soon data leak reveals insight into Chinese cyber espionage hacking program

The I-Soon data leak is a significant revelation in Chinese cyber espionage, as it offers a rare glimpse into the inner workings of a major spyware and APT-for-hire provider. The leak exposes I-Soon’s methods, tools and goals, as well as the challenges and frustrations of its staff.

According to the leaked data, I-Soon infiltrated several government agencies, including those from India, Thailand, Vietnam, South Korea, and NATO. Some of the tools that I-Soon used are impressive. For example, they had a tool that could steal the user’s Twitter email and phone number, read personal messages, and publish tweets on the user’s behalf. They also had custom Remote Access Trojans (RATs) for Windows, iOS, and Android, that could perform various malicious actions, such as keylogging, file access logging, process management, and remote shell. They also had portable devices for attacking networks from the inside, and special equipment for operatives working abroad to establish safe communication.

The leak also reveals some of the challenges and difficulties that I-Soon faced, such as losing access to some of their data seized from government agencies, dealing with corrupt officials, and working in sensitive regions like Xinjiang. The leak also shows some of the internal complaints and grievances of I-Soon’s staff, such as low pay, poor management, and lack of recognition.

The leak is a treasure trove of intel for cybersecurity researchers and analysts, as it provides a rare insight into the day-to-day operations of China’s hacking program, which the FBI says is the biggest of any country. The leak also raises serious concerns for the security and sovereignty of the countries and organizations targeted by I-Soon, as it exposes the extent and the impact of China’s cyber espionage activities.

In summary, the I-Soon data leak exposed the secrets of Chinese cyber espionage, which poses a major challenge to world security and stability. Faced with this threat, it is necessary to strengthen cooperation and defense in cybersecurity, while respecting the principles of freedom and transparency on the internet. It is also important to understand China’s motivations and objectives, in order to find peaceful and lasting solutions.

Reactions and challenges to the Chinese cyber espionage threat

The revelation of the I-Soon data leak comes amid growing tensions between China and its rivals, notably the United States, which regularly accuses it of carrying out cyberattacks against their interests. China, for its part, denies any involvement and presents itself as a victim of cyberwar. Faced with this threat, the countries targeted by I-Soon are calling for strengthening their cooperation and defense in cybersecurity.

For example, the European Union adopted a legal framework in 2023 to impose sanctions on perpetrators of cyberattacks, including China. Likewise, NATO has recognized cyberspace as a domain of operation, and affirmed its willingness to retaliate in the event of an attack. Finally, democratic countries have launched initiatives to promote the values ​​of freedom and transparency on the internet, such as the Partnership for an Open and Secure Cyberspace.

However, these efforts remain insufficient to confront the Chinese threat, which has considerable resources and sophisticated strategies. It is therefore necessary to develop a global and coordinated approach, which involves governments, businesses, organizations and citizens. This would involve strengthening the resilience of information systems, sharing information and good practices, raising users’ awareness of the risks and opportunities of cyberspace, and promoting constructive dialogue with China.

The solutions of Freemindtronic against the cyber espionage threat

Facing the cyber espionage threat, especially from China, requires effective and adapted solutions, both from a technical and a strategic perspective. One of the companies that offers such solutions is Freemindtronic, an Andorran company that develops security and encryption technologies, based on the NFC HSM (Near Field Communication and Hardware Security Module) technology. The NFC HSM technology allows to create hardware security modules on any type of device, that ensure the encryption and the signature of any data, without contact, without energy source, and without internet connection.

Freemindtronic offers several solutions against the cyber espionage DataShielder Defense NFC HSM: a solution for sovereign communications, that allows to encrypt and sign any data on any type of device, with an unmatched level of confidentiality and trust. DataShielder uses the EviCore HSM OpenPGP technology, which is interoperable, retrocompatible, and versatile. DataShielder allows to customize the security of secrets, and to meet various specific needs.

  • PassCypher NFC HSM: a solution for the management and storage of passwords, that allows to create, store, and use complex and secure passwords, without having to remember or enter them. PassCypher uses the EviPass NFC HSM technology, as well as the NFC HSM devices of Freemindtronic, EviTag and EviCard. PassCypher offers a maximum security and a simplicity of use.
  • PassCypher HSM PGP: a solution for the management and storage of PGP keys, that allows to create, store, and use PGP keys, certificates, and signatures, without having to remember or enter them. PassCypher uses the EviCore HSM OpenPGP technology, as well as a hybrid solution via a web extension. PassCypher works without server and without database, and stores the encrypted containers on any storage device, protected by a post-quantum AES-256 encryption.

These solutions of Freemindtronic allow to protect oneself from the cyber espionage threat, by encrypting and signing the data, by managing and storing the passwords and the keys, and by communicating in a confidential and sovereign way. They are based on the NFC HSM technology, which guarantees a hardware and software security, without contact, without energy source, and without internet connection.

The means of counter espionage against the methods of I-Soon

Against the methods of cyber espionage of I-Soon, which are varied and sophisticated, the countries and organizations targeted must implement effective and adapted means of counter espionage. These means can be of several types:

  • Preventive: they consist of strengthening the security of the information systems, by using up-to-date software, antivirus, firewall, complex passwords, encryption protocols, etc. They also consist of training the users to good practices, such as not opening suspicious attachments or links, not disclosing confidential information, not using public or unsecured networks, etc.
  • Defensive: they consist of detecting and blocking the intrusion attempts, by using tools of surveillance, analysis, tracing, filtering, neutralization, etc. They also consist of reacting quickly and limiting the damage, by isolating the compromised systems, backing up the data, alerting the competent authorities, communicating transparently, etc.
  • Offensive: they consist of retaliating and deterring the attackers, by using tools of counter-attack, disinformation, sabotage, sanction, etc. They also consist of cooperating with the allies and partners, by sharing the information, the evidence, the strategies, the resources, etc.

These means of counter espionage must be adapted to the specificities of the methods of I-Soon, which are varied and sophisticated. For example, to face the security flaws, it is necessary to use trustworthy software, verify their integrity, and update them regularly. To face the malware, it is necessary to use efficient antivirus, scan the systems regularly, and clean them in case of infection. To face the social engineering techniques, it is necessary to raise the awareness of the users, verify the identity and the credibility of the interlocutors, and not let oneself be influenced or corrupted.

Chinese cyberespionage statistics

The I-Soon data leak constitutes unprecedented testimony to the scale and impact of Chinese cyberespionage, which is based on close collaboration between the authorities and the private sector. Here are some statistics that illustrate the phenomenon:

China spent at least US$6.6 billion on cyber censorship in 2020, according to the Jamestown Foundation.

According to official sources, at least 2 million people were working for China’s cyberespionage system in 2013, a number that has almost certainly increased over the past eight years.
GreatFire, a censorship monitoring organization in China, estimates that 16% of the world’s 1,000 most visited websites are currently blocked in China.
In 2022, ANSSI handled 19 cyber defense operations and major incidents, compared to 17 in 2021. Nine of them were intrusions attributed to Chinese actors.

In conclusion, the means of counter espionage against the methods of I-Soon are essential to protect the interests and the sovereignty of the countries and organizations targeted. They must be implemented in a coordinated and proportionate way, respecting the principles of legality and legitimacy.

Ommic case: How a French company allegedly handed over military secrets to China and Russia

Ommic case: The story of a French semiconductor company accused of spying for China and Russia

Ommic case by Jacques Gascuel: This article will be updated with any new information on the topic.  

Ommic case: A scandal of military industrial espionage

Ommic, a French semiconductor company, suspected of spying for China and Russia. Alleged delivery of military material and processes for radars, missiles or drones. Economic and political consequences for France and Europe. Questions about the protection and control of dual-use technologies. Article on the Ommic case, the technological secrets, the measures taken by the French government and other cases of military industrial espionage in the world.

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Ommic case: The story of a French semiconductor company accused of spying for China and Russia

The Ommic case is a scandal of industrial espionage that involves a French company specialized in the manufacture of high-tech semiconductors. According to the charges brought by the French justice, Ommic would have delivered to China and Russia material and processes sensitive to the military, used in particular by the French army. The French general manager of the company, as well as three other people, were indicted in March 2023 for “delivery to a foreign power of processes, documents or files likely to harm the fundamental interests of the Nation”. The French state took temporary control of the company and seized several tens of millions of euros. In June 2023, Ommic was sold to an American owner and changed its name to Macom. This case raises questions about the protection of French technological know-how and the risks associated with the transfer of strategic technologies to foreign powers.

What is Ommic?

Ommic, located near Paris in Limeil-Brévannes, has a history of more than 40 years in material science, semiconductor wafer processing and monolithic microwave integrated circuit (MMIC) design. Its differentiated manufacturing capabilities include several semiconductor processes and products qualified by the European Space Agency (ESA). Ommic uses notably gallium arsenide (GaAs) and gallium nitride (GaN) technologies, which allow to produce high-performance electronic components for high-frequency applications. Ommic counts among its customers major players in the space sector, such as Thales Alenia Space or Airbus Defence and Space.

Why did Macom buy Ommic?

Macom is an American supplier of semiconductor products for the telecommunications, industrial and defense and data center sectors. Macom announced in February 2023 that it had entered into a definitive agreement to acquire the assets and operations of Ommic for approximately 38.5 million euros. Macom sees Ommic’s high-frequency MMIC product portfolio and design capability as an aid to address microwave applications on target markets. Macom also said that acquiring Ommic should allow it to focus more on European markets and expand its wafer production capacity.

What are the technological secrets delivered by Ommic?

According to the information revealed by the French press, Ommic would have delivered to China and Russia material and processes sensitive to the military, which could have been used to manufacture radars, missiles or drones. These would include machine tools capable of engraving GaN wafers, a highly sought-after technology for its performance in terms of power, efficiency and thermal resistance. Ommic would also have transmitted digital files containing integrated circuit plans, source codes or algorithms. These technological secrets would have an estimated value of several hundred million euros.

What are the consequences of the Ommic case?

The Ommic case had legal, economic and political consequences. On the legal level, four people were indicted and placed under judicial control. They face 15 years in prison and 225 000 euros fine.

On the economic level, the French state took temporary control of the company. It also seized several tens of millions of euros. Moreover, it launched an audit to assess the damage to national defense. Additionally, it strengthened the security and competitiveness of the French semiconductor industry.

On the political level, the Ommic case provoked contrasting reactions. Some denounced a national betrayal and a threat to technological sovereignty. Others minimized the scandal and welcomed the takeover by Macom. The French government affirmed its vigilance and reminded that France had other leading players in this field.

The Ommic case also had implications for the world of semiconductors. This is a strategic sector for many applications. The case revealed the vulnerability of some European companies to foreign espionage and competition. The case also highlighted the importance of protecting intellectual property rights and preventing technology transfers. The case also raised questions about Macom’s role and responsibility.

How did Macom react to the Ommic case?

Macom reacted to the Ommic case by expressing its support for the French authorities and its commitment to comply with all applicable laws and regulations. Macom stated that it was not aware of any wrongdoing by Ommic or its employees before or during the acquisition process. Macom also stated that it had conducted a thorough due diligence on Ommic’s business and operations before closing the deal. Macom said that it was cooperating fully with the French authorities and that it was confident that it would be able to demonstrate its good faith and integrity.

Macom also tried to reassure its customers and partners about its ability to continue to provide high-quality products and services based on Ommic’s technologies. Macom said that it had taken steps to ensure the continuity of Ommic’s operations and to preserve its know-how and expertise. Macom also said that it had implemented strict security measures to protect Ommic’s intellectual property and trade secrets from unauthorized access or disclosure.

Macom also emphasized the strategic value of acquiring Ommic for its growth and innovation objectives. Macom said that Ommic’s high-frequency MMIC product portfolio and design capability were complementary to its own offerings and would enable it to address microwave applications on target markets. Macom also said that acquiring Ommic would allow it to focus more on European markets and to expand its wafer production capacity.

Are these measures enough to ensure the security and competitiveness of France in the field of semiconductors?

According to experts, these measures are necessary but not sufficient. It would also be necessary to strengthen European cooperation, which is essential to cope with global competition, especially from China and the United States. It would also be necessary to anticipate technological changes and market needs, which are constantly changing. It would finally be necessary to develop a coherent and ambitious industrial and commercial strategy, which values the assets and specificities of France.

What are the challenges and opportunities that arise for the future?

The challenges are numerous, but so are the opportunities. The field of semiconductors is indeed a key sector for many applications, such as aeronautics, automotive, space, health or digital. The global demand is strong and should continue to grow in the coming years. France has recognized skills and innovative players in this field, who can differentiate themselves by their quality, reliability or performance. France can therefore play a major role in the development and dissemination of tomorrow’s technologies.

What are some other examples of military industrial espionage cases in the world?

Military industrial espionage is the practice of spying on or stealing information from other countries or companies that are involved in the development, production, or sale of military equipment, technology, or services. Military industrial espionage can have serious consequences for national security, economic competitiveness, and international relations.

There are many examples of military industrial espionage cases in the world, involving different actors, methods, and targets. Here are some of them:

  • In 2019, a former engineer at Raytheon, a US defense contractor, was arrested and charged with exporting sensitive missile technology to China. Wei Sun, a Chinese-born US citizen, admitted that he took a laptop containing classified information about Raytheon’s products to China without authorization. He also admitted that he shared some of the information with Chinese professors and students at a university in China1.
  • In 2018, a former employee of the French aerospace company Thales was convicted of spying for China. Henri Dumoulin, a French citizen, was accused of passing confidential documents about radar systems and missile guidance to Chinese intelligence agents. He was sentenced to six years in prison and fined 40,000 euros2.
  • In 2017, a former employee of the German engineering company Siemens was found guilty of selling trade secrets to Russia. Evgeny Kaspersky, a Russian citizen, worked as a software developer at Siemens and had access to the source code of a software used to control gas turbines. He copied the code and sold it to a Russian company that was linked to the Russian military. He was sentenced to two years and nine months in prison3.
  • In 2016, a former employee of the British defense company BAE Systems was arrested and charged with attempting to sell jet fighter secrets to Iran. Simon Finch, a British citizen, worked as a software engineer at BAE Systems and had access to sensitive information about the Typhoon fighter jet. He allegedly tried to sell the information to Iranian officials through an encrypted messaging app. He was later acquitted after claiming that he acted out of frustration over his treatment by BAE Systems.

How to prevent and combat military industrial espionage?

Military industrial espionage is a widespread and dangerous phenomenon for the security and competitiveness of countries and companies involved in the military industry. It involves spying or stealing sensitive information or technology for military purposes. Therefore, it is important to implement effective measures to prevent and combat this type of espionage. These measures may include:

  • Strengthening the protection and control of classified or proprietary information and technology.
  • Enhancing the awareness and education of employees and contractors about the risks and responsibilities.
  • Increasing the cooperation and coordination among national and international authorities and partners.
  • Prosecuting and sanctioning those who engage in or facilitate military industrial espionage.

The Ommic case is not an isolated case of military industrial espionage in the world. There are many cases where countries or companies have tried to appropriate or transfer sensitive information or technology. Some of these technologies are dual-use, meaning that they can have both civilian and military applications. This is the case for data encryption and messaging.

The complexity and dynamics of industrial espionage with a military character

Industrial espionage with a military character is a complex and dynamic phenomenon, which evolves according to technological advances, geopolitical power relations and the strategies of the actors involved. It poses significant challenges for the security and competitiveness of countries and companies that are victims or targets of this practice. It therefore requires constant vigilance and continuous adaptation to prevent and combat this threat.

The Ommic case is a concrete and recent example of industrial espionage with a military character that illustrates one of the methods that this practice can take. It also shows the flaws and risks associated with dual-use technologies, i.e. technologies that can have both civilian and military applications. It invites us to think about the future prospects and challenges posed by industrial espionage with a military character in an increasingly connected and competitive world.

Conclusion: The Ommic case and the challenges of industrial espionage with a military character

Industrial espionage with a military character is a complex and dynamic phenomenon, which evolves according to technological advances, geopolitical power relations and the strategies of the actors involved. It poses significant challenges for the security and competitiveness of countries and companies that are victims or targets of this type of espionage. It therefore requires constant vigilance and continuous adaptation to prevent and combat this threat.

In this article, we have presented the Ommic case, a scandal of industrial espionage with a military character that involves a French company specialized in the manufacture of high-performance electronic components for high-frequency applications. We have explained the facts, the actors, the stakes and the consequences of this case. We have also shown how this case illustrates one form of industrial espionage with a military character by transfer, according to the means and methods used. In the next article, we will address other methods such as infiltration, surveillance, hacking, subversion.

In the next article, we will also talk about the counter-espionage technologies such as those designed, developed and manufactured by Freemindtronic, which include innovative digital security solutions based on quantum cryptography. These solutions allow to protect sensitive data from theft, falsification or corruption, using unbreakable encryption keys and tamper-proof transactions.

We will explain how these solutions can help countries and companies to protect themselves from attacks of industrial espionage with a military character, using cutting-edge and environmentally friendly technologies.

If you want to learn more about how to protect your data and communication from industrial espionage with a military character, stay tuned for our next article on Freemindtronic’s innovative solutions based on quantum cryptography.