Cyber Intel Threatens Joint Strike Fighter

Computer hackers, apparently working as spies, have stolen "several terabytes of data related to design and electronics systems" at the heart of the Defense Department's massively expensive Joint Strike Fighter program.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the intrusion raises questions about whether adversaries will be able to parlay the hack attack data into better defenses against the F-35 Lightning II.

It also points to something inadequate about the defenses of contractors behind the program. The Journal reported that the bad guys got to the data through "vulnerabilities in the networks of two or three contractors helping to build the high-tech fighter jet, according to people who have been briefed on the matter. Lockheed Martin is the lead contractor on the program, and Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems PLC also play major roles in its development.

"Lockheed Martin and BAE declined to comment. Northrop referred questions to Lockheed."

It also raises questions -- again, for the umpteenth time -- about the incredible and persistent vulnerabilities that have made government and corporate computers the equivalent of Swiss cheese. Counter-intelligence authorities worry that a growing number of hackers are operating on behalf of foreign governments.

Did someone mention China?

Seriously, no one knows for sure who is at play here. But feds have their suspicions, according to the Journal: Former U.S. officials say the attacks appear to have originated in China. However it can be extremely difficult to determine the true origin because it is easy to mask identities online.

"A Pentagon report issued last month said that the Chinese military has made 'steady progress' in developing online-warfare techniques. China hopes its computer skills can help it compensate for an underdeveloped military, the report said."

That's unfair, according to Chinese officials. Really unfair.

"The Chinese Embassy said in a statement that China 'opposes and forbids all forms of cyber crimes.' It called the Pentagon's report 'a product of the Cold War mentality' and said the allegations of cyber espionage are 'intentionally fabricated to fan up China threat sensations.'

Folks, cybersecurity is a serious and growing problem. When are we going to begin taking it more seriously?

By Robert O'Harrow |  April 21, 2009; 4:29 PM ET computer security
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Comments

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OMG, America's favorite loan shark ( Chinese ) might have hacked Pentagon Computers.? It's funny, they already own Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems PLC ... The new Chinese name for the F-35 Lightning II is " Sukey You 11 "

Posted by: wasaUFO | April 21, 2009 5:30 PM

There should be very little doubt that Cyber crime is on the increase and spying and espionage is a very dangerous byproduct of this new technology. The fact is no one can be completely protected we just have to be always prepared.

Posted by: BPW3 | April 21, 2009 5:34 PM

of course it was avoidable, but when you are the Pentagon and you demand a budget in the hundreds of billions of dollars, your brain is fried by all that money. Even a chimpanzee in overalls could figure how to keep the secrets inaccessible: design is done on computers that have no internet access. (The P'gon can't afford $600 for a workstation without i'net access???) But this is symptomatic of a collapsing country-no one cares. In Clinton's time, the Chinese stole the entire hard drive- and Clinton pardoned the guy who was clearly guilty.

Posted by: yard80197 | April 21, 2009 7:47 PM

and Isreal spys on the US all the time (selling the stolen secrets to the Chinese but no mention of those spies). Ah that is a SACRED COW. Two members of AIPAC, Rosen and Weisman, have been indicted on spying charges during Bush II's reign yet they are out free on a technicality, along with doug Feith, jonathan pollard, mordecai sunoonoo and many others.

Posted by: yard80197 | April 21, 2009 7:59 PM

Perhaps the NSA should spend a little less time and other resources on wiretapping, and a bit more on computer security?

Posted by: DavidEBrown | April 21, 2009 8:14 PM

Designed to be used by all the services? I seem to recall the last time they tried that was with the F-111. For the last thirty years we have been getting fewer and fewer planes for more and more money. The F-35 brings us one step closer to the end result: no planes for an infinite amount of money. Then of course there is the question of how well the F-35 will actually fly, assuming that it flies at all. Given the way engineering education has been going in this country for the last 39 years, they will be lucky to get it off the ground.

Posted by: tiktin | April 21, 2009 9:13 PM

What operating system were they using that was breached? What security were they using?

These are the most important points. Why are they left out of the story?

Posted by: toquasin | April 21, 2009 10:28 PM

> Folks, cybersecurity is a serious and growing problem.
> When are we going to begin taking it more seriously?

When we have leadership with the technical knowledge to understand why the nerds need to spend a half million dollars on new equipment to keep up with the joneses, and why that funding shouldn't be diverted to a pet project. As it is, the people making these decisions can't figure out how to open their email in the morning.

Posted by: karlkatzke | April 21, 2009 11:23 PM

WHEN WILL AMERICANS WAKE UP OF JUST WHO CHINA IS AND WHAT THEIR GOALS ARE? WE BEND OVER FOR CHINA BUT WILL NOT GIVE CUBA THE TIME OF DAY. NOW RUN ON AND BUY YOUR MADE IN CHINA PRODUCTS THINKING YOUR GET A GOOD BUY. YOU MIGHT AS WELL KISS THE USA GOODBYE.

Posted by: usapdx | April 22, 2009 12:19 AM

What I want to know is why did Nero let it happen?

Posted by: cerebral_but | April 22, 2009 1:48 AM

The F-35 is no longer a viable fighter and should be canceled before anymore funding is done. Did the systems data taken, compromise the F-22 program. If so the fighter defense system is garage. It just seem like the government systems and personnel needs a real overhaul and heads should roll. An article not to long ago stated, the government was hiring hackers to work for certain departments. If this is true, the government is using hackers to defend against other hackers. What kind of people WERE you hiring to work inside the government. I hope the government is getting the most talented, brightest and the smartest and not necessarily the most educated. WAKE UP! The government is supposed to defend the US.

Posted by: jk330 | April 22, 2009 12:03 PM

Isn't there someone we could waterboard? I mean, come on, there's gotta be someone.

Posted by: theintegrator | April 22, 2009 5:17 PM

Note that no commentators are surprised.

Super opportunity for CI to sell many a pig-in-the-poke until the engineering IT can be totally compartmentalized and effective cyber security is in place.

Posted by: BeauDarq | April 23, 2009 10:23 AM

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