Pentagon Defends Weapons Despite Chinese Hacks

In this file photo, airmen at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., update anti-virus software for Air Force units to assist in the prevention of cyberspace hackers.

The U.S. Defense Department said its weapons systems give it a "technological edge" despite a report that found many of the designs have been compromised by Chinese hackers.

"We maintain full confidence in our weapons platforms," Pentagon spokesman George Little said May 28 in an e-mailed statement. "Suggestions that cyber intrusions have somehow led to the erosion of our capabilities or technological edge are incorrect."

Little was responding to an article in The Washington Post that detailed the existence of a classified section of a Defense Science Board report listing more than two dozen compromised systems to include the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the Littoral Combat Ship, and the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System among others.

The platforms are among the most critical in the U.S. government’s weapons portfolio and made by its biggest defense contractors, including Lockheed Martin Corp., based in Bethesda, Md., and General Dynamics Corp., based in Falls Church, Va.

The electronic intrusions may allow China to build similar products in shorter time, saving it billions in development costs, and to develop better countermeasures, giving it a potential advantage during a conflict, according to the article.

The January report by the Defense Science Board, a panel of government and civilian scientists and experts, didn't specify the timing and extent of the attacks, or whether prime contractors or subcontractors were targeted, according to the article. But it did find that the Chinese also sought to exploit military technologies such as directed energy, aerial drones and satellite communications.

A Chinese espionage group since 2006 has stolen hundreds of terabytes of information from at least 141 companies across 20 major industries, including aerospace and defense, according to a February report from Mandiant, a closely held company based in Alexandria, Va., which sells information-security services.

The Pentagon in its latest annual assessment of China’s armed forces for the first time blamed China directly for targeting its computer networks. The attacks were focused on extracting information, including sensitive defense technology.

"In 2012, 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," it states. "The accesses and skills required for these intrusions are similar to those necessary to conduct computer network attacks."

That document also concluded that the People's Liberation Army, or PLA, considers the strategy of "information dominance" a critical form of defense against countries that it views as "information dependent," such as the U.S.

China called the accusations "groundless" and "not in line with the efforts made by both sides to strengthen mutual trust and cooperation," according to a May 9 article published on the state-run website, "People’s Daily Online."  The country is a "victim itself of cyberattacks," it states.

President Barack Obama is expected to discuss the issue during his meeting next month with President Xi Jinping.

A bill sponsored by Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, would make it easier for intelligence agencies to share information with the private sector. The legislation, Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, H.R. 624, has been referred to the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The Pentagon wants to better protect its networks from attack and asked Congress to increase funding for so-called cyberspace operations 21 percent to $4.7 billion in fiscal 2014, which begins Oct. 1.

The military over the next three years plans to hire more military and civilian personnel and contractors at U.S. Cyber Command. It would also fund efforts to automatically detect vulnerabilities on classified networks, buy software that looks for suspect files, and support other operations to "detect, deter and, if directed, respond to threats," according to an overview of the budget.

"The Department of Defense takes the threat of cyber espionage and cyber security very seriously, which is why we have taken a number of steps to increase funding to strengthen our capabilities, harden our networks, and work with the defense industrial base to achieve greater visibility into the threats our industrial partners are facing," Little said in the statement.

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