Submarine builder declares ‘economic warfare’ as plans for ship said to be hacked; now what?

DCNS Web site
DCNS Web site

Get used to another term in world of computer hacking: “economic warfare.”

A French firm building multi-billion-dollar submarines for Australia and several other nations says it was the victim of economic warfare after some of its schematics for similar subs being built for India were released online, allegedly by hackers.   The data was published by Australian media

The firm, DCNS, is currently bidding for military contracts in Poland and Norway. For the India gig, it had beaten out German and Japanese firms.

An embarrassing data leak would obviously hurt the French firm’s bid for more deals — in addition to perhaps imperiling the security of its current projects.

“DCNS has been made aware of articles published in the Australian press related to the leakage of sensitive data about Indian Scorpene,” the firm said on its website. “This serious matter is thoroughly investigated by the proper French national authorities for Defense Security. This investigation will determine the exact nature of the leaked documents, the potential damages to DCNS customers as well as the responsibilities for this leakage.”

Right now, there’s only speculation about how much the allegedly stolen data might impact the security of the ships when they arrive in India — and the security of similar DCNS ships in Malaysia and Chile.

But DCNS immediately suggested that rivals might be to blame for the leak.

“Competition is getting tougher and tougher, and all means can be used in this context,” a company spokesperson said to Reuters. “There is India, Australia and other prospects, and other countries could raise legitimate questions over DCNS. It’s part of the tools in economic warfare.”

It’s clearly too early to know, however, if simple corporate espionage is to blame — or there might be some military advantage to be gained from publication of the documents.  Given that the alleged hackers send the data to a media outlet, it’s also possible their motivation was political.

The incident does highlight the asymmetrical nature of digital “warfare,” however.  A billion-dollar project involving thousands of employees can be derailed by a single person with a digital file and a the e-mail address of a journalist.

“If this was economic warfare as speculated, we can expect more attacks like this on a global scale,” said Scott Gordon, COO at file security firm FinalCode. “Hacktivists are motivated by reputational, economic and political gains from capitalizing on businesses’ and countries’ inability to secure sensitive, critical documents— tipping the scale in favor of other contenders in future military action and contracting situations.”

It also shows how hard it is to keep data under wraps when multiple third-party contractors have to share information in large projects.

“Sharing files, such as the 22,000-plus pages of blueprints and technical details on DCNS’s Scorpene submarines, is a necessary collaboration between government, contractor and manufacturing entities,” Gordon said. “But the exposure of these Indian naval secrets illustrates how lax file protection has opened a door to new data loss risks—and how even confidential military information can be exfiltrated and exposed by a weak link in the supply chain.”

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About Bob Sullivan 1612 Articles
BOB SULLIVAN is a veteran journalist and the author of four books, including the 2008 New York Times Best-Seller, Gotcha Capitalism, and the 2010 New York Times Best Seller, Stop Getting Ripped Off! His latest, The Plateau Effect, was published in 2013, and as a paperback, called Getting Unstuck in 2014. He has won the Society of Professional Journalists prestigious Public Service award, a Peabody award, and The Consumer Federation of America Betty Furness award, and been given Consumer Action’s Consumer Excellence Award.

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