Stealing classified or sensitive information about military hardware is becoming a more common occurrence, but hacking has rarely spread to international corporations. A year ago, Chinese national Su Bin orchestrated the theft and sale of secret information about Boeing’s C-17 Globemaster aircraft to China. On 24 March 2016, Su Bin was put on trial, and pleaded guilty.
This incident has brought up many questions about the security of Boeing databases, and has some Boeing customers worried that potential competitors may now have critical information about aircraft that they have in their inventories.
Thomas Cavaliere, an engineer in Boeing’s Testing & Evaluation division, acknowledges the impact that the stolen information may have on the company’s monetary gains and its competition.
“Security breaches can be extremely costly to a business. Loss of information, whether it be technical or business in nature, can have severe impacts – monetarily, regulatory or otherwise,” said Cavaliere. “Regulatory bodies could levy fines or sanctions which could directly lead to a financial impact [and] exposure of trade secrets can provide competition an advantage which could indirectly lead to loss of future sales.”
Security breaches like this generally have a major impact on the company’s employees, especially those responsible for safeguarding sensitive information.
“If an employee was negligent and led to the exposure they could be demoted, suspended or fired,” said Cavaliere, “Even when the employees are not directly responsible there could still be impacts to them. For example, if the information breach resulted in lost sales and decline in business, employees could be laid off.”
Cavaliere is also well aware of the advantages that a nation like China could get by attaining such crucial information. For example, it could boost the development of foreign designs, which presents a looming threat to Boeing’s international sales.
“Foreign countries or companies could have several incentives for hacking into a company’s data systems, they could be seeking to catch up technologically or gain a strategic advantage,” said Cavaliere. “They could be looking to hurt a competitor to increase their own sales.”
Commercial Pilot Jeff Kaufer believes that the Chinese government is likely the consumer of this classified information, as in the past China has been the largest buyer of classified information regarding the United States.
“Historically, China has shown intent on hacking into American systems,” said Kaufer, “and in my opinion, this case should be no different.”
Kaufer also knows what it is like to deal with tight security protocols, specifically those of the TSA, and understands that major changes are likely to follow in light of this incident.
“It would be responsible of Boeing to ensure that it won’t be replicated,” said Kaufer, “further security restrictions are very likely to be installed.”
Despite having such a negative impact on the Boeing company, security breaches like this also have some positive impacts for the company. The company can use this to uncover serious security risks that would have gone unnoticed otherwise, preventing an even more disastrous breach further down the line.
“Exposure of the issue could increase awareness and possibly divert funding to addressing and preventing these types of issues,” said Cavaliere, “Changes to laws and enforcement of those laws to prevent future attacks could be a positive benefit.”