The US just announced a new Chinese spying case. 

A security expert says this kind of business theft is rampant.

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Hi-Tech Engine

Taking a trip? This is what will most likely put you into the air — a turbofan engine.

The technology behind these engines is so valuable, some people will try to steal it.

The US Department of Justice just announced ten people have been indicted for allegedly hacking and pilfering turbofan technology for China, the third case of alleged Chinese espionage in the past two months.

Security strategist Christopher Burgess, who worked with the Central Intelligence Agency for 30 years, said this kind of intellectual property theft is rampant.

“Because it is always cheaper to steal the technology than to create the technology,” he told Archer News. “There will always be those that are trying to cut the corners and get ahead because they don’t have the wherewithal to do it themselves.”


Many commercial jets use turbofan engines. Image credit: ArtisticOperations


Many Spies

It’s not just China.

Intellectual property theft — from many countries and companies — costs the U.S. about 100 billion dollars a year, according to Burgess.

“There’s no shortage of competitors that would rather steal than develop,” Burgess said.

In the latest case, investigators said Chinese intelligence officers and their cohorts infiltrated networks of aviation companies in the U.S. and Europe.

Once they got into a target site, like Capstone Turbine of Los Angeles, they used it to trick more victims, according to court documents.


Capstone Turbine in Van Nuys, California. Image credit: Google Maps


They made copycat sites and sent out phishing e-mails, using accounts like “capstonetrubine” instead of “capstoneturbine,”  and broke into aviation-related companies in San Diego, Oregon, Arizona and Massachusetts, the indictment said.

They gathered up data and confidential business info between 2010 and 2015, at the same time as a Chinese state-owned aerospace company was working on a similar turbofan engine, agents said.

Not Just Aerospace

This is one of many intellectual property theft cases in many industries.

Chinese spies dug up special corn seeds from a multi million dollar research test farm in Iowa, later trying to smuggle their prize out in microwave popcorn boxes.

“They then went to a farm they bought in Illinois and they planted it,” Burgess said to Archer News. “Then they harvested those seeds and took it back to China on behalf of a Chinese company. That Chinese company now had the new strain of seeds.”

In another case, police said a businessman pretended he had appointments at Medrobotics in  Massachusetts in 2017 and hung out in a conference room, armed with several computers and cameras he could use to dig up business secrets about surgery robots.


Medrobotics develops robotic surgery technology. Image credit: Medrobotics


Luckily, the CEO spotted the intruder late on a Friday night.

“He was leaving for the day. He noticed the lights on and said, ‘Who are you?’” Burgess explained.

“‘Well, I’m here to meet the CEO and gave his name. The CEO said, ‘I don’t know you. I don’t have an appointment with you. I’m the CEO,” Burgess added. “That’s when the gig was up.”

The businessman was arrested, though prosecutors later dropped their criminal charges.

You’re Touching It

You may not work with turbofan engines or medical robots or secret seeds.

But just about everyone handles some sort of intellectual property at work.

And it’s not just other countries.

Some U.S. companies spy on each other.

“If you’re doing business, you’re touching intellectual property. It might be yours, it might be someone else’s,” Burgess said. “But the reality is, there’s information in your company you want to protect.”


A judge ordered Chinese wind turbine maker Sinovel to pay more than $50 million to a U.S. company in 2018 for stealing trade secrets. Image credit: Sinovel


Insider Info

At a restaurant, for example, you could have recipes, marketing plans, customer lists and management strategies — all valuable to another business.

And there are people willing to hack you or trick you into giving it up.

“It’s the secret recipe that we use that allows ours to taste better than our competitors,” Burgess said. “It’s how we price our goods so that we make a profit. That’s a secret.”

Even something simple like an e-mail to your boss can provide insider info.

Burgess encourages you to be aware.

Someone may be out to chat you up on LinkedIn or trick you with a phishing e-mail — or hack your accounts — because you may hold a piece of a puzzle they want for themselves.

“If you’re losing your own information or losing your customer information, you’re losing,” he said.


Main image: A commercial jet engine. Credit: Squirrel Photos