Yujing Zhang is led in the federal district court in West Palm Beach, Fla., on Monday. (William Hennessy Jr. / CourtroomArt.com)
It is the epitome of a cheeky spy thriller.
Questions continue to swirl around Chinese wife, Yujing Zhang, who was arrested on March 30 on the grounds of President Trump’s Florida home, Mar-a-Lago. Her story sounds a lot changed between the security checkpoints, and she was in possession of two passports, four cell phones, a laptop, an external hard drive and a usb flash drive that the authorities later claimed contained malware. In addition, more than $ 8,000 in the US and Chinese currency was found in her hotel room in the neighborhood.
Denied bail and is still behind bars, the federal government will continue to dig deep.
“The Mar-a-Lago incident should be a wake-up call for all companies and politicians that theft of digital assets is not just the nameless, faceless people of the ocean,” Theresa Payton, founder and CEO of the industry and the government protection agency, Fortalice Solutions told Fox News, via e-mail. “Whether this was a independent tried cybercrime or espionage, it should serve as a stark reminder that the strong operational security is absolutely crucial.”
Indeed, the strange case of miss Zhang is not the first “possible Chinese ghost story to the headlines of the last time, with dozens of people over the past two decades, is charged in the U.S. with espionage at the behest of the People’s Republic of China. Last week in New York wife Ying Lin who worked for Air China, plead guilty to working as an agent of the Chinese government by placing unscreened packages on Beijing-bound flights, as imposed by the Chinese military stationed in China’s permanent UN mission. In October last year, the Ministry of Justice unsealed new charges against ten Chinese hackers, and officers, accused of taking part in a years-long and wide scheme aimed at stealing the secrets and tradecraft of the various fields.
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But what do the Chinese spies ultimately want out of the ordinary and not-so-ordinary Americans?
“Ten years ago, the goal was more narrow. The efforts were aimed at the government with espionage and theft of intellectual property. Now, China and other nation-states cast a wide net,” Payton said. “They have learned that all of the information gathering can be useful, or the goal is espionage, theft, and exploitation of intellectual property or political influence.”
According to Michael Biggs, founder and chairman of the Centurion Alliance is a global tier-one tactical training and security company – all about protecting cutting edge recipes. He pointed to a recent case of a prominent athletic apparel company in the U.S., which he refused to name, where the research and development company had just developed a new clothing line that was planned for a later release.
“Then, the (Chief Financial Officer), while on a trip to Asia saw the very same dress has sold as cheap knockoffs by street vendors,” Biggs fought. “A hostile group had tapped someone on the phone and pulled the images from, and then acquired the line in China. Very fast course, no evidence is left behind. A huge dollar loss for the company.”
The coach will walk along the red flags on the Tiananmen Square during a plenary session of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing Monday, March 11, 2019. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
While the likes of Larry Johnson, CEO of security company CyberSponse, and a 24-year veteran of the U.S. Secret Service views on the Mar-a-Lago incident as “too simple and bad plan” to the state sanctioned, he stressed that the official Chinese espionage targets are as large as ever.
“The Chinese rise to global power is dependent largely on espionage and theft of AMERICAN and western technologies. The United States is the benchmark against which they measure themselves,” he told Fox News. “They want to gather intelligence for a kind of competitive advantage that they can be obtained on the industrial secrets, trade secrets, political views, military, you name it. Basically, anything they can get their hands on.”
And that makes all the Americans are ripe for targeting, experts caution.
“The most vulnerable victims are not computers, but people. Human intelligence gathering is an art,” Biggs said. “It’s about taking advantage of the people of the vulnerabilities, whatever they are, to get the information.”
And the arsenal to do so is said to have been very diverse, “IP intercept, ISMI catchers, dumpster diving, listening devices (bugs) and informants, the students at the universities, Chinese companies, and their employees,” Johnson claimed.
“Very often, the Chinese use phishing-e-mails on the first offense. However, they have highly skilled cyber teams that can find and exploit a network or weak spots in the software, including the exploitation of zero-day flaws,” he continued, referring to a software vulnerability that is known by the supplier, but has not yet patched or protected against.
Things to watch out for, observed Carlos Perez – research and development practice lead for information technology consultants TrustedSec – in the first place, “phishing e-mails, USB sticks left in order to wait for a curious person to the plug and even phone calls where a person is tricked into downloading and running a piece of software on your account.”
There is also the issue of boots-on-the-ground recruitment.
“China has trained spies here with the responsibility to spot, assess, develop, recruit and handle individuals with the placement of, and access in the main areas of the government and the industry,” said Andrew Lewis, President of the private intelligence firm of The Ulysses Group, with emphasis on “university-based networks are responsible for a lot of the information and intellectual property in China collects from US.”
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In December, Bill Priestap Assistant Director, Counterintelligence Division for the FBI, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, clarifying that “China makes use of unconventional economic espionage as part of a general strategy for the promotion of China’s high-tech industry.”
Priestap claimed that “China is by far the most active practitioner of economic espionage today,” and the economic espionage only the cost of the U. S as much as $600 billion per year.
He illuminates the risks that the universities and university colleges forms, both in the sense that they are targeted for their cutting-edge research and technological development, and they serve as an abundant garden for spies to intimidate the Chinese students and professors critical of the policy of the country, and shape academics to their advantage.
“They combine this with an aggressive cyber-espionage effort,” Lewis said. “They want a much more active role in defining international order and make sure that it reflects the Chinese interests.”
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And in his view, even of home-grown technology businesses to move more in the direction of the firing line in exchange for their own bottom line.
“Agribusiness, financials, chip makers, air–, and space in China is working to exploit the recent 737 incident in an attempt to undercut Boeing and the improvement of their budding aerospace desires,” he claimed. “All of our giant tech companies are important goals, (some) have to decide until the end of the contracts with the government in exchange for access to the Chinese market. The components, or subcontracted labor, and are found defective in the past.”