US weapons system designs were reportedly viewed by Chinese hackers

Defense Department is not yet prepared to fight off sophisticated cyberattacks, an advisory group says

Designs for more than two dozen advanced U.S. weapon systems, including missile defenses, combat aircraft and ships, were reportedly accessed by Chinese hackers.

The systems were listed in a previously undisclosed section of a report prepared for government, defense industry and Pentagon officials by the Defense Science Board (DSB), a committee of experts that advises the U.S. Department of Defense on technical and scientific matters, the Washington Post reported Monday.

"DoD and its contractor base have already sustained staggering losses of system design information incorporating decades of combat knowledge and experience that provide adversaries insight to technical designs and system use," the advisory group said in a public version of the report released in January that covers the findings of an 18-month study into the resilience of military systems against advanced cyberthreats.

Among the designs documents obtained by hackers were those for missile defense systems, including the PAC-3 Patriot missile system, the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system and the U.S. Navy's Aegis ballistic-missile defense system, according to the Post, which obtained a copy of the previously undisclosed report section.

System designs related to the F/A-18 fighter jet, the F-35 multirole combat aircraft, the V-22 Osprey aircraft, the Black Hawk helicopter and the Navy's Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) class of vessels were also among those listed in the breach report.

The DSB did not indicate when and where the data breaches occurred or who was behind them. However, according to the Post, unnamed senior military and defense industry officials familiar with the breaches said that most of them were the result of Chinese cyberespionage efforts against defense contractors.

During the past year, U.S. government officials have been increasingly vocal in claiming that China is responsible for cyberattacks that resulted in the theft of intellectual property and other sensitive information from U.S. companies and government agencies. In a report released earlier this month, the DOD said that last year "numerous computer systems around the world, including those owned by the U.S. government, continued to be targeted for intrusions, some of which appear to be attributable directly to the Chinese government and military."

The Chinese government has repeatedly denied its involvement in cyberespionage and dismissed such accusations as baseless.

In the public version of its report, the DSB described the cyberthreat as serious and said that in some ways its consequences are similar to those of the nuclear threat of the Cold War.

The DOD's actions to combat this threat are numerous, but fragmented, so the department is not yet prepared to defend against it, the DSB said. "It will take years for the Department to build an effective response to the cyber threat to include elements of deterrence, mission assurance and offensive cyber capabilities."

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