Chinese hackers have managed to break into U.S. systems that contained sensitive documentation relating to the design of weaponry.
According to a confidential report prepared by the U.S. Defense Science Board for the Pentagon, Chinese infiltrators have managed to expose data relating to the United States' "most sensitive advanced weapons systems," reports The Washington Post.
Over two dozen weapon system designs were compromised, according to the report. These systems are "critical" to U.S. missile defenses, and also relate to military systems present on U.S. aircraft and ships.
The confidential version contains a list of all the weapons compromised in the security breach. Designs include the Aegis ballistic-missile defense system, the Patriot missile system (PAC-3), and combat aircraft including the F/A-18 fighter jet, the V-22 Osprey, the Black Hawk helicopter and the Navy patroller called the Littoral Combat Ship.
Experts told the publication that exposure of this data could accelerate the development of Chinese weapon systems, and therefore weaken the U.S. in potential future disputes.
The Defense Science Board did not formally accuse China of involvement, but governmental sources with knowledge of the breach say that the vast majority of U.S. infrastructure cyberattacks originate from the country. However, the Post does not indicate whether the data breach took place on a governmental or third-party contractor network, nor does it indicate the timeframe in which cyberattacks took place.
The public version of the report, "Resilient Military Systems and the Advanced Cyber Threat" (.pdf), labels the problem of cyberattacks "serious" and "insidious," with consequences similar to "the nuclear threat of the Cold War." The task force also says that allowing data theft may have "severe consequences for U.S. forces engaged in combat."
In addition, the report says that the Department of Defense is not equipped to be able to cope with the rising problem, and downloadable hacking tools make it easy to breach governmental defenses, as "U.S. networks are built on inherently insecure architectures with increasing use of foreign-built components."
An anonymous senior military official told the publication:
"In many cases, they don't know they've been hacked until the FBI comes knocking on their door. This is billions of dollars of combat advantage for China. They've just saved themselves 25 years of research and development."
The Obama Administration recentlythat suggested China has engaged in widespread cyber espionage campaigns against the United States. China allegedly has been stealing confidential information concerning "diplomatic, economic and defense industrial base sectors that support national defense programs."
China has also been linked to cyberspying campaigns by security firm Mandiant, which claims that the country is responsible forof cyberattacks.
The Chinese government has blasted reports that the nation is responsible for cyberattacks, and has retaliated by claiming that the U.S. is often the instigator of cyberattacks against Beijing.
Cyberwarfare is expected to be a hot topic when President Obama meets Chinese President Xi Jinping next month.