Congress Warns Pentagon at Mercy of China's Hackers
November 22, 2008
Owen Bowcott / The Guardian & FOX News
China is stealing sensitive information from American computer networks and stepping up its online espionage, according to a US congressional panel. Meanwhile, The Pentagon has suffered from a cyber attack so alarming that it has taken the unprecedented step of banning the use of external hardware devices, such as flash drives and DVD's to protect its vast network of military computers.
China's Hackers Stealing US Defence
Secrets, says Congressional Panel
Owen Bowcott / The Guardian
WASHINGTON (November 20 2008) — China is stealing sensitive information from American computer networks and stepping up its online espionage, according to a US congressional panel.
Beijing's investment in rocket technology is also accelerating the militarisation of outer space and lifting it into the "commanding heights" of modern warfare, the advisory group claims. The strident warning, which may have a chilling effect on relations between the two Pacific powers, comes in the annual report of the US-China economic and security review commission due today.
A summary of the study, released in advance, alleges that networks and databases used by the US government and American defence contractors are regularly targeted by Chinese hackers. "China is stealing vast amounts of sensitive information from US computer networks," says Larry Wortzel, chairman of the commission set up by Congress in 2000 to investigate US-China issues.
The commission, consisting of six Democrats and six Republicans, says in its unanimous report that China's military modernisation and its "impressive but disturbing" space and computer warfare capabilities "suggest China is intent on expanding its sphere of control even at the expense of its Asian neighbors and the United States."
The commission recommends that the US upgrade its intelligence and homeland security systems protecting computer networks. It quotes the Chinese military strategist, Wang Huacheng, as describing US dependence on space assets and information technology as its "soft ribs."
There are 250 hacker groups in China, the report says, including some whose members have been trained at Chinese military academies.
"China is aggressively pursuing cyber warfare capabilities that may provide it with an asymmetric advantage against the United States," the commission says.
"In a conflict situation, this advantage would reduce current US conventional military dominance ... in 2007 the 10 most prominent US defense contractors, including Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Northrop Grumman, were victims of cyber espionage through penetrations of their unclassified networks."
China's space programme is "steadily increasing the vulnerability of US assets", the report says. Technical improvements in satellite imagery enable China to locate US aircraft carrier battle groups more accurately, faster and from further away.
The People's Liberation Army officer and author Cai Fengzhen is quoted as saying that the "area above ground, airspace and outer space are inseparable and integrated. They are the strategic commanding height of modern informationalised warfare."
"If this becomes Chinese policy," the report says, "it could set the stage for conflict with the United States and other nations that expect the right of passage for their spacecraft."
"China could use laser technology to blind temporarily a US reconnaissance satellite operating over international waters. This action could be viewed by many as purely defensive. However, China also could use its ASAT capability to destroy a US satellite operating over its territory."
"China has significant anti-satellite capabilities. The capabilities go far beyond those demonstrated in the January 2007 'test' that destroyed an obsolete Chinese weather satellite. They include co-orbital direct attack weapons and directed energy weapons for dazzling or damaging satellites, both of which currently are under development."
Relations between China and the United States are businesslike and have not been under severe strain recently. During the presidential election campaign, Barack Obama said: "China is rising, and it's not going away," adding that Beijing was "neither our enemy nor our friend; they're competitors."
Allegations that Chinese hackers penetrate US defence computers have been made before, including reports of attacks on the Pentagon supposedly backed by China's army. US intelligence gave the assaults the codename Titan Rain. In Britain last year, Chinese hackers were said to have breached networks used by the foreign office, the House of Commons and Whitehall departments.
China has said it is not trying to undermine other countries' interests and wants to maintain good relations with the US.
Pentagon Hit by Unprecedented Cyber Attack
WASHINGTON (November 20, 2008) — The Pentagon has suffered from a cyber attack so alarming that it has taken the unprecedented step of banning the use of external hardware devices, such as flash drives and DVD's, FOX News has learned.
The attack came in the form of a global virus or worm that is spreading rapidly throughout a number of military networks.
"We have detected a global virus for which there has been alerts, and we have seen some of this on our networks," a Pentagon official told FOX News. "We are now taking steps to mitigate the virus."
The official could not reveal the source of the attack because that information remains classified.
"Daily there are millions of scans of the GIG, but for security reasons we don't discuss the number of actual intrusions or attempts, or discuss specific measures commanders in the field may be taking to protect and defend our networks," the department said in an official statement.
Military computers are often referred to as part of the Global Information Grid, or GIG, a system composed of 17 million computers, many of which house classified or sensitive information.
FOX News obtained a copy of one memo sent out last week to an Army division within the Pentagon warning of the cyber attack.
"Due to the presence of commercial malware, CDR USSTRATCOM has banned the use of removable media (thumb drives, CDRs/DVDRs, floppy disks) on all DoD networks and computers effective immediately."
FOX News' Justin Fishel and Jennifer Griffin contributed to this report.
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