Russian Hackers Targeted U.S. Drone Technology, Associated Press Reveals

Russian hacker group Fancy Bear targeted at least 15 U.S. scientists and employees in aviation companies working specifically on drone technology, The Associated Press (AP) reports.

Fancy Bear is the largest group of weapons specialists identified as targets of the cyber spy group, as part of a broad hacking attempt aimed at U.S. targets revealed by an AP investigation.

The report said that the hacker group, which also intruded in the U.S. election, went after at least 87 people working on militarized drones, missiles, rockets, stealth fighter jets, cloud-computing platforms or other sensitive activities, with drones seemingly being the focus of their interest.

As remote-control aircraft have moved to the forefront of modern warfare, countries like Russia are racing to make better drones. The efficient weapon can fire missiles, hunt down adversaries, or secretly monitor targets for days — all while keeping human pilots safely behind computer controls.

Drones will lead growth in the aerospace industry over the next decade, with military uses driving the boom, the Teal Group predicted in November. Production was expected to balloon from $4.2 billion to $10.3 billion.

So far, though, Russia has nothing that compares with the new-generation U.S. Reaper, which has been called “the most feared” U.S. drone. The 5,000-pound mega-drone produced by General Atomics has seen action in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria.

The hackers went after General Atomics, targeting a drone sensor specialist. He did not respond to requests for comment by the AP.

“Fancy bear” also made a run at the Gmail account of Michael Buet, an electronics engineer who has worked on ultra-durable batteries and high-altitude drones for SunCondor, a small South Carolina company owned by Star Technology and Research. Such machines could be a useful surveillance tool for a country like Russia, with its global military engagements and vast domestic border frontier.

The Russians also appeared eager to catch up in space, once an arena for Cold War competition in the race for the moon. They seemed to be carefully eyeing the X-37B, an American unmanned space plane that looks like a miniature shuttle but is shrouded in secrecy.

In a reference to an X-37B flight in May 2015, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin invoked the vehicle as evidence that his country’s space program was faltering.

“The United States is pushing ahead,” he warned Russian lawmakers.

Less than two weeks later, Fancy Bear tried to penetrate the Gmail account of a senior engineer on the X-37B project at Boeing, the investigation revealed.