Alex Brandon/AP

As Trump Meets China, US Worries About Beijing’s Supercomputers and Industrial Espionage

Network breaches? NSA research director says we ain’t seen nothing yet.

The meeting between President Trump and China’s President Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago takes place amid against new reports of Chinese-government-sponsored industrial espionage and the concerns of top science minds in the intelligence community that China is eclipsing the United States in a key area of national security concern: high-performance computing.

In January, China announced that it intends this year to build the world’s first exascale supercomputer, capable of running one quintillion, or 1018, operations per second. Two months later, the National Security Agency and the Department of Energy released a report stating that China was pulling ahead of the United States in the field of supercomputing.

“That’s a significant national concern for us,” Deborah Frincke, the director of research at the National Security Agency / Central Security Service, said at an National Defense Industrial Association event on Wednesday.

The NSA report goes into more detail about the threat that Chinese supercomputing superiority poses to United States interests:

“If China fields a weapons system with new capabilities based on superior [high performance computing] and the U.S. cannot accurately estimate its true capabilities, there is a serious possibility of over- or underestimating the threat. Either possibility leads to unwelcome situations such as distortions in the allocation of R&D resources and strategic planning for defense, uncertainty in national policy-making, and incorrect responses to world events.”

The report urges greater investment in high-performance computing to catch up.

Meanwhile, Chinese industrial espionage appears to be on the rise again despite a landmark 2015 agreement between Xi and Trump’s predecessor to curb Chinese attacks on Western industrial targets.

On Wednesday, cyber security company Fidelis reported on a Chinese hacking operation tied to the National Foreign Trade Council, or NFTC. They report that between February 27 and March 1, pages on the NFTC site were hacked to include “a link that led to a remote script that would execute when anyone visited that page. That remote script was the Scanbox framework, a well-known web reconnaissance tool that has been observed in previous campaigns.”

Fidelis named the Chinese-government linked group APT10. Also called Stone Panda, APT10 is long known to the cyber-security research community.

Aside from industrial espionage, China has a long history of targeting U.S. military systems and other targets including the 2013 hacks against weapons of the sort that the United States would rely on heavily in the event of a war with China, such as the Aegis ballistic missile defense system.

In October, the Pentagon released documentation of several other instances of the Chinese government targeting U.S. military and other security interests.