Report: China Hacked Costly U.S. Missile Defense, Weapon Designs

Missile systems and jet blueprints were among the reportedly hacked designs.


The confidential version of a Defense Science Board report compiled earlier this year reportedly says Chinese hackers accessed designs for more than two dozen of the U.S. military's most important and expensive weapon systems.

Weapons named in the report included the PAC-3 Patriot missile system, the Army's Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, the Navy's Aegis ballistic-missile defense system, the F/A-18 fighter jet, the V-22 Osprey, the Black Hawk helicopter and the Navy's Littoral Combat Ship, according to the Washington Post, which was given a copy of the document.

Plans for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, estimated to cost $1.4 trillion to develop, were also hacked, according to the report.

"If they got into the combat systems, it enables them to understand it to be able to jam it or otherwise disable it," Winslow Wheeler, director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Project on Government Oversight, told the Post. "If they've got into the basic algorithms for the missile and how they behave, somebody better get out a clean piece of paper and start to design all over again."

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Earlier this year, the Defense Science Board warned in the public version of its report that the Defense Department "and its contractor base have already sustained staggering losses of system design information."

According to the public version of the report, "[m]ost successful attacks reaching [Defense Department] networks today result from a personnel failure or out-of-date software in firewalls and detection systems."

The Defense Science Board is a 32-member committee of military experts that reports to the Secretary of Defense. Members are selected for one- to four-year terms "on the basis of their preeminence in the fields of science, technology and its application to military operations, research, engineering, manufacturing and acquisition process," according to the board's website.

A report to Congress earlier this month from the Defense Department accused the Chinese government of hacking military secrets. "China is using its computer network exploitation capability to support intelligence collection against the U.S. diplomatic, economic, and defense industrial base sectors that support U.S. national defense programs," said the report, according to the Wall Street Journal.

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"As we all know, the United States is the real 'hacking empire' and has an extensive espionage network," China's People's Daily newspaper responded. "The groundless accusations reflect U.S. distrust of China," Wang Xinjun, a researcher with the Chinese People's Liberation Army, told the Xinhua News Agency.

A February report by Mandiant, an American cybersecurity company, revealed that an "overwhelming" percentage of Chinese cyberattacks on U.S. companies and government agencies are conducted by a special unit of the Chinese military based at a single Shanghai office building, The New York Times reported. Attacks dropped off for three months after the revelation, but have since resumed.

The confidential report's findings were reported Monday, the same day the Australian Broadcasting Corporation accused Chinese hackers of snatching blueprints for the Australian Security Intelligence Organization building, which experts say could make the $630 million building easier to bug. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei denied the report, telling reporters Tuesday: "China pays high attention to the cyber security issue and is firmly opposed to all forms of hacker attacks. ... I don't know what the evidence is for media to make such kinds of reports."

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