Wall Street Journal: Chinese Hackers Raid U.S. Universities for Submarine Warfare Secrets

The Los Angeles-class, fast attack submarine USS Hampton (C) sits moored alongside the submarine tender USS Frank Cable (L) during a visit to Hong Kong on May 17, 2011. China is researching and deploying systems to fight U.S. submarines. (Vincent Yu/AFP/Getty Images)
Vincent Yu/AFP/Getty Images

The Chinese government has been raiding American university databases for technology which can help it develop undersea warfare technology, according to the Wall Street Journal.

But the hacking may be overkill, because federal regulations already allow Chinese graduates and scientists to take jobs in taxpayer-funded undersea-warfare research centers and universities. The approval is provided by the controversial “Optional Practical Training” program which allows universities to effectively sell work permits to foreign students, and to deny jobs to their own U.S. graduates.

The Wall Street Journal reported:

The University of Hawaii, the University of Washington and Massachusetts Institute of Technology are among at least 27 universities in the U.S., Canada and Southeast Asia that Beijing has targeted, according to iDefense, a cybersecurity intelligence unit of Accenture Security.

iDefense said it identified targeted universities by observing that their networks were pinging servers located in China and controlled by a Chinese hacking group known to researchers interchangeably as Temp.Periscope, Leviathan or Mudcarp. Researchers at the U.S. cyber firm FireEye, who have studied the same group, said the iDefense findings were generally consistent with their own intelligence.

The majority of the universities targeted either house research hubs focused on undersea technology or have faculty on staff with extensive experience in a relevant field, and nearly all have links to a Massachusetts oceanographic institute that also was likely compromised in the cyber campaign, iDefense said.

But the OPT program allows Chinese navy officers and other foreigners to get underseas warfare jobs.

The OPT work permits are managed by the Department of Homeland Security.

The program was not established by Congress, but it was created by agency officials to provide U.S. technology companies with a cheap supply of college graduate workers. Employers of OPT workers do not have to pay Social Security or Medicare taxes, so it is cheaper for companies and universities to hire foreigners instead of young American graduates.

The program allows foreign graduates with technology credentials to work in U.S. jobs for three years after graduating from a U.S. university. Graduates with non-technology credentials are allowed to work for one year. A paired program, dubbed the Curricular Practical Training program, provides a one-year work permit to foreigners before graduation.

Roughly 400,000 foreign students had OPT work permits in 2017, so pushing hundreds of thousands of Americans out of promising jobs.

Many foreign graduates use the OPT work permits as a springboard into the H-1B program, which provides work permits lasting at least three years. In turn, many of the former OPT students who get into the H-1B program can also win green cards and so compete for jobs against Americans for the next 5o or 70 years — much to the advantage of employers, investors, and real estate owners. The OPT program was created by Michael Chertoff, who was then serving as the head of the Department of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush.

Technology graduates can use their OPT work permits to take jobs in a very wide range of careers.

The DHS’s 2016 list of STEM work includes option “29.0307” which is described “Undersea Warfare.” It can be found sandwiched between “Operational Geography” and “Military Applies Science.”

The DHS list includes a very wide range of jobs, from “Directed Energy Systems” to “Low-Observables and Stealth Technology” to “Veterinary Physiology” to “Urban Forestry.”

The list also allows foreign graduates to work as technicians: “Architectural Engineering Technology/Technician,” “Biomedical Technology/Technician,” “Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Engineering Technology/Technician,” and “Solar Energy Technology/Technician.”

Some companies and universities exclude foreign graduates from jobs. For example, the Wall Street Journal article says the hacker targeted Penn State’s Applied Research Laboratory. The laboratory requires employees have U.S. citizenship. The university, however, helps foreign students to enroll in the OPT program.

Currently, Senators and House members have drafted two bills — HR1044 and S.386 — that will help many former OPT workers get quick citizenship. The bills would put roughly 70,000 Chinese and 300,000 Indian college graduates on a fast track to green cards and citizenship — and sideline hundreds of thousands of American graduates.

The Senate co-sponsors of the green card giveaway bill include Republicans and Democrats:

  • Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO)
  • Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME)
  • Sen. Jim Moran (R-KS)
  • Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE)
  • Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR)
  • Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA)
  • Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO)
  • Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR)
  • Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI)
  • Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR)
  • Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO)
  • Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND)
  • Sen. Krysten Sinema (D-AZ)

The news about Chinese hacking also comes amid a renewed effort by the White House to protect U.S. science and technology from theft by Chinese researchers.

White House officials are using trade talks to change Chinese “behaviors so they don’t steal our technology by infiltrating people into companies and into even national laboratory,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said May 1. A leading goal is “changing the practice so they don’t force technology transfer,” when U.S. companies invest in China, he said in a talk at the annual CPAC meeting.

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