Chinese businessman to serve US prison term for military hacking

A man types on a computer keyboard in this illustration picture taken in 2013.
A man types on a computer keyboard in this illustration picture taken in 2013. PHOTO: REUTERS

LOS ANGELES (REUTERS) - A Chinese businessman who pleaded guilty in March to conspiring to hack into the computer networks of Boeing and other major US defence contractors was sentenced on Wednesday (July 13) to nearly four years in prison, prosecutors said.

Su Bin, 51, was charged with taking part in a years-long scheme by Chinese military officers to obtain sensitive military information. In addition to the 46-month prison term, a judge in US District Court in Los Angeles also ordered Su to pay a US$10,000 (S$13,450) fine.

"Su Bin's sentence is a just punishment for his admitted role in a conspiracy with hackers from the People's Liberation Army Air Force to illegally access and steal sensitive US military information," Mr John Carlin, assistant attorney-general for national security, said in a statement.

"Su assisted the Chinese military hackers in their efforts to illegally access and steal designs for cutting-edge military aircraft that are indispensable to our national defence," the statement said.

In an August 2014 indictment, prosecutors said Su travelled to the US at least 10 times between 2008 and 2014 and worked with two unidentified co-conspirators based in China to steal the data.

The trio were accused of stealing plans relating to the C-17 military transport plane and F-22 and F-35 fighter jets, and attempting to sell them to Chinese companies.

According to prosecutors, in pleading guilty Su admitted sending e-mails to his co-conspirators telling them which persons, companies and technologies to target with their hacking and translating the stolen material from English to Chinese.

Su admitted taking part in the crime for financial gain, prosecutors said.

The Chinese government has repeatedly denied any involvement in hacking.

Su was arrested in Canada in 2014 and ultimately consented to US extradition.

He pleaded guilty in March to one count of conspiring to gain unauthorised access to a protected computer and to violate the Arms Export Control Act.