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US caught a Chinese spy through iPhone’s iCloud backup

Chinese spy iCloud iPhone
Image: Video Screenshot

A Chinese spy was caught with the help of an iCloud backup of his iPhone, reported Bloomberg on Thursday. The perpetrator, Xu Yanjun, served as an officer in China’s Ministry of State Security (MSS).

The Chinese government sent their spy to acquire GE Aviation’s secrets but their official was unsuccessful and got caught. Bloomberg published a detailed report of the case but we have only mentioned the highlights here.

How the FBI caught the Chinese spy through his iPhone iCloud

On November 5, 2021, a federal jury accused Yanjun of industrial espionage against GE Aviation and Honeywell. China’s aim was to fetch secrets related to advanced aerospace engines from the company so they could imitate their methods to manufacture their own.

However, US investigators were unable to get any direct evidence from Yanjun’s iPhone. This is because an anonymous user remotely removed the data right after his arrest. The particulars of the investigation reported by Bloomberg show that Yanjun’s iCloud data played an important role in his conviction.

Backups on the iCloud are usually encrypted in transit and when they are located in servers. But, Apple can provide the sensitive data after an authentic subpoena from a law enforcement agency— in this case, the FBI.

China sent spy to steal classified aerospace project information

The information on the Chinese officer’s iCloud data revealed a document that the FBI or any other US agency had not seen before. Bloomberg’s report describes the document similar to the Standard Form 86, a questionnaire formulated by US intelligence agencies for their employees to fill.

According to the report, China targeted engineers and academics working on classified aerospace projects in the US. The country used its officers from the Ministry of State Security, like Yanjun, to gather top-secret information from US companies.

An employee of GE Aviation, David Zheng, was promptly caught and used in counterintelligence to take Yanjun out of China. GE was in touch with the FBI and used technical papers without any secret information, but were skillfully devised to be suggestive.

Zheng presented the fake documents to Yanjun to lure him and Chinese researchers into thinking they were real. And finally, after months of hard work, US investigators were able to draw Yanjun to Belgium. From there, he was detained and extradited to the US.

About the author

Brendan Taylor

Brendan Taylor was a TV news producer for 5 and a half years. He is an experienced writer. Brendan covers Breaking News at Insider Paper.

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