An investigation into a data theft at the Italian defense group Leonardo showed that one of its employees was targeting details of the nEUROn, an experimental unmanned combat aerial vehicle conjointly developed by several European manufacturers.

The cybercrime services of the Italian police in Rome and Naples started investigating in January 2017, when Leonardo informed the authorities about an abnormal data output from 94 computers of the company, 33 of which were located at the group’s plant in Pomigliano d’Arco, near Naples. Between 2015 and 2017, over 10 gigabytes of confidential data was stolen using a malware installed on several machines, the police reported.

The preliminary report of the judge seen by Reuters specifies that one of the computers which was hacked belonged to a Leonardo technician who worked on the electronic system of the nEUROn.

The nEUROn is a European program that involves Dassault Aviation for France as the main contractor, Leonardo for Italy, Saab for Sweden, Airbus for Spain, HAI for Greece, and RUAG for Switzerland. The objective was to create a stealthy platform, of a size equivalent to that of a fighter plane, capable of detecting a ground target autonomously, and eventually carrying out an airstrike using an internal bomb bay. 

A platform similar to the nEUROn could be used in collaboration with the Future Combat Air System (FCAS), the fighter program developed by France, Germany and Spain that should have the capacity to operate a “swarm of drones.”

Other compromised data could include the C27J military transport aircraft as well as ATR commercial and military turboprop planes. Leonardo says, however, that no strategic, classified data was stored on the compromised computers. Two employees suspected to be involved in the theft, including the former head of Leonardo’s Cyber Emergency Readiness Team, were arrested by the Italian police.

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The technology demonstrator nEUROn is carrying out its fourth test campaign. Called “Low Observability”, it aims at testing the stealth capability of the nEUROn against different sensors.