Airbus played down the risk of cyberattacks on Friday and said it had “appropriate measures” to mitigate any danger after an AFP investigation revealed a series of hacking incidents targeting the European aerospace giant.
“We are protecting ourselves against cyberattacks,” chief commercial officer Christian Scherer said at an event marking the first delivery of Airbus’s latest plane, the A350, to Air France.
“You can imagine that a company like ours has the technology to identify, repel and protect ourselves against any such attacks,” he added.
More than half a dozen sources spoke to AFP about a series of attacks on Airbus suppliers — including British engine-maker Rolls-Royce, French technology consultancy Expleo, and two other French contractors — in order to steal Airbus commercial secrets.
The sources said investigators had not been able to identify the perpetrators of the intrusions, but that there was a suspicion that China was involved.
Airbus has long been considered a tempting target because of its cutting-edge technologies that have made it one of the world’s biggest commercial plane manufacturers, as well as a strategic military supplier.
In January, it admitted to a security incident that “resulted in unauthorised access to data”, but people with knowledge of the attacks who spoke to AFP outlined a concerted and far bigger operation over the last year.
According to several of the sources, the hackers appeared to be interested in technical documents linked to the certification process for different parts of Airbus aircraft.
They also said that several stolen documents were related to the innovative turbo-prop engines used on the Airbus military transport plane A400M.
Scherer conceded that hacking attempts to spy on the company were a “reality,” but he insisted the company was taking “all the appropriate measures” to protect itself.
– Beijing denial –
The Chinese government rejected any involvement.
“In recent years, there have been many reports about cyberattacks in the media. In these reports, without any evidence, the parties concerned always pin the label of cyberattack on China and smear China,” foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a press briefing.
“This practice is neither professional nor responsible, and even has ulterior motives,” Geng said, adding that China “is a firm defender of network security.”
China has long been suspected by Western governments of using cyberattacks to steal commercial information.
In its quest to break the stranglehold of Airbus and Boeing on the global aircraft market, Beijing has launched its own commercial airliner recently and has plans to develop more.
In October 2018, the US Justice department named several Chinese security officers as being responsible for a hacking operation targeting an engine being developed by US-based General Electric and French aerospace group Safran.