China denies it hacked 2 US satellites

China has denied a congressional report claiming that its military may have hacked into two U.S. satellites several years ago, saying the commission had unspecified “ulterior motives” in making the claim.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman dismissed the claim, saying "This report is untrue and has ulterior motives. It's not worth a comment," Reuters reported Oct. 31 from Beijing.

A draft report by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission said two Earth observation satellites were interfered with several times between October 2007 and October 2008 from a ground station in Norway, Bloomberg reported.

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“Such interference poses numerous potential threats, particularly if achieved against satellites with more sensitive functions,” according to the excerpts from draft quoted by Bloomberg. “Access to a satellite’s controls could allow an attacker to damage or destroy the satellite. An attacker could also deny or degrade as well as forge or otherwise manipulate the satellite’s transmission.”

Although the interference has not been traced to China, the commission’s report states “the techniques appear consistent with authoritative Chinese military writings” about disabling satellite control facilities during a conflict, Reuters said.

Specifically, a Landsat-7 satellite system was interfered with for 12 or more minutes in October 2007 and July 2008, according to the report, which is scheduled to be released publicly in November. And Terra AM-1 satellite was interfered with twice in 2008, for two minutes in June and nine minutes in October.

The report did not go into further details about the what was involved in the interference. A NASA statement said the Terra satellite, which it operates, experienced “no manipulation of data, no commands successfully sent to the satellite, and no data captured.”  NASA did not comment on Landsat-7, which it built for the U.S. Geological Survey.

It responding to the claims, the Chinese spokesman said that China "is also a victim of hacking attacks and will oppose any form of cyber crime, including hacking," Reuters reported.

The claim by the commission, which was created by Congress in October 2000 to study the national security implications of U.S.-China trade, is the latest in a series of accusations against China for acts of potential cyber espionage.

Attacks against Google and RSA Security — the latter obtaining information on security tokens used in an attempted hack of defense contractor Lockheed Martin — both have been blamed on China. And an apparent editing mistake in a documentary on China’s state TV may have providing the smoking gun that China does indeed attack sites in the United States.

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.


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