LOS ANGELES – A Chinese national who admitted to participating in a years-long conspiracy that involved Chinese military officers hacking into the computer networks of major U.S. defense contractors in order to steal military technical data was sentenced today to 46 months in federal prison.
Su Bin, who is also known as Stephen Su and Stephen Subin, 51, a citizen and resident of the People’s Republic of China, was sentenced this afternoon by United States District Judge Christina A. Snyder, who also ordered the defendant to pay a $10,000 fine.
Su told his co-conspirators – military officers in China – whom to target, which files to steal and why the information they stole was significant. During the course of the conspiracy, Su and his co-conspirators stole sensitive military and export-controlled data and sent the stolen information to China.
“Protecting our national security interests, including sensitive military information, is the Justice Department’s highest priority,” said United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker. “Over the course of years, this defendant sought to undermine the national security of the United States by seeking out information that would benefit a foreign government and providing that country with information it had never before seen. The outstanding efforts of the prosecutors and investigators who developed this case demonstrate our commitment to protecting our nation’s security from all threats. As this case shows, criminals can be held accountable no matter where they are located in the world.”
On March 23, Su pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to gain unauthorized access to a protected computer and to violate the Arms Export Control Act by exporting defense articles on the U.S. Munitions List contained in the International Traffic in Arms Regulations. Su admitted that he conspired with two persons in China from October 2008 to March 2014 to gain unauthorized access to protected computer networks in the United States – including computers belonging to the Boeing Company in Orange County, California – to obtain sensitive military information and to export that information illegally from the United States to China.
“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 U.S. military information,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John P. Carlin. “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 defense. These activities have serious consequences for the national security of our country and the safety of the men and women of our armed services. This prison sentence reinforces our commitment to ensure that hackers, regardless of state affiliation, are held accountable for their criminal conduct.”
A criminal complaint filed in 2014 and subsequent indictments filed in Los Angeles charged Su, a China-based businessman in the aviation and aerospace fields, for his role in the criminal conspiracy to steal military technical data, including data relating to the C-17 strategic transport aircraft and certain fighter jets produced for the U.S. military. Su was initially arrested in Canada in July 2014 on a warrant issued in relation to this case. Su ultimately waived extradition and consented to be conveyed to the United States in February 2016.
Su admitted that as part of the conspiracy, he sent e-mails to his co-conspirators with guidance regarding what persons, companies and technologies to target during their computer intrusions. One of Su’s co-conspirators gained access to information located on computers of U.S. companies, and he emailed Su directory file listings and folders showing the data that the co-conspirator had been able to access. Su then directed his co-conspirator as to which files and folders his co-conspirator should steal. Once the co-conspirator stole the data, using techniques to avoid detection when hacking the victim computers, Su translated the contents of certain stolen data from English into Chinese. In addition, according to Su's admissions and the sentencing documents, Su and his co-conspirators each wrote, revised and emailed reports addressed to the Second Department, General Staff Headquarters, Chinese People’s Liberation Army about the information and technology they had acquired by their hacking activities, including its value, to the final beneficiaries of their hacking activities. Su also admitted that he engaged in the crime for the purpose of financial gain and specifically sought to profit from selling the data the he and his conspirators illegally acquired.
The case was investigated by the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office’s Cyber Division with assistance from the U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations.
This case was prosecuted by the Terrorism and Export Crimes Section of the United States Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles and the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section of the Department of Justice, with support from the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs.