Defense Science Board Hacking Report: China is Hacking Its Way Through U.S. Defenses

The Washington Post released an article Tuesday about a public report prepared by the Defense Science Board in January stating that China’s hackers have compromised the United States' most sensitive advanced weapons systems. In the report, the advisory panel issues a warning that the Pentagon is not prepared to counter a full-scale cyber-conflict.

While the public report was released in January, the compromised weapons designs were not made public until the Washington Post article. These designs include the advanced Patriot missile system, the Navy’s Aegis ballistic missile defense systems, the F/A-18 fighter jet, the V-22 Osprey, the Black Hawk helicopter and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

The experts, that the advisory panel consists of, say the cyber theft by China creates three major problems for the U.S.

First, the access gained to the U.S. designs allows the Chinese to have an operational edge, which could be exploited in any possible future conflicts. Second, the hackers have allowed for China’s accelerated acquisition of advanced military technology, saving the country billions in development costs. And third, China’s own defense industry can and will benefit from the U.S. designs.

The report by the advisory panel did not outright accuse the Chinese of cyber theft but this has changed with the release of the Washington Post article a month before President Obama is to meet with the Chinese President Xi Jinping in California, where it is expected the two to discuss the issue. However, the report was adamant that the designs from more than two dozen systems have been compromised. Additionally, the focus on the report coincides with reports in Australian media that Chinese hackers have allegedly stolen blue prints for Australia’s new spy headquarters.

It is common knowledge still that without the advisory panel’s report that China has been pursuing a comprehensive long-term strategy to modernize its military and, by proxy, to overcome the long standing U.S. military advantage. So despite the Defense Science Board’s hesitation on naming China in their report, the Pentagon has noted in this month’s report to Congress on China that the cyber-espionage recently experienced by the U.S. is seen as a key tool for China to achieve the efforts mentioned above. This marks the first time that the Pentagon specifically named the Chinese government and military as the culprit behind the intrusions into the U.S. government computer systems.

In an attempt to stop the intrusions, the Pentagon launched a pilot program two years ago to combat the problem by helping the defense industry shore up its computer systems. This was done by allowing those defense contractors to use classified threat data from the National Security Agency to screen networks for malware. In addition, the 2013 Defense Authorization Act includes a provision that requires the defense contractors who have classified clearances to report all intrusions into their networks and allow access to government investigators analyzing the breach.

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Debra Sault

Writer who is interested in human rights, global security issues, risk analysis and religion

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