Biographies and service records of aircraft carrier captains and up-and-coming officers in the U.S. Navy. Real-time tweets originating from overseas U.S. military installations. Profiles and family maps of foreign leaders, including their relatives and children. Records of social media chatter among China watchers in Washington.
Those digital crumbs, along with millions of other scraps of social media and online data, have been systematically collected since 2017 by a small Chinese company called Shenzhen Zhenhua Data Technology for the stated purpose of providing intelligence to Chinese military, government and commercial clients, according to a copy of the database that was left unsecured on the Internet and retrieved by an Australian cybersecurity consultancy.
The cache, called the Overseas Key Information Database, or OKIDB, purports to offer insights into foreign political, military and business figures, details about countries’ infrastructure and military deployments, and public opinion analysis. The database contains information on more than 2 million people, including at least 50,000 Americans and tens of thousands of people who hold prominent public positions, according to Zhenhua’s marketing documents and a review of a portion of the database.
Although there is no evidence showing that the OKIDB software is currently being used by the Chinese government, Zhenhua’s marketing and recruiting documents characterize the company as a patriotic firm, with the military as its primary target customer.