10.31.11

Made In China — more cyberwar, with satellites

Posted in Cyberterrorism, Made in China at 4:10 pm by George Smith

Three years ago US Landsat satellites were diddled.

A piece at GovExec explains the events at length. And China gets most of the blame although I was unwilling to go quite that far:

China may have been flaunting its scientific capabilities by meddling with U.S. Earth observation satellites in past years, according to space and computer security experts.

Two unusual incidents involving signals targeting a U.S. Geological Survey satellite in 2007 and 2008 were referred to the Defense Department for investigation, USGS officials said Monday. NASA also experienced two “suspicious events” with a Terra observational satellite in 2008, officials at the space agency confirmed. An annual report from the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission slated for release Nov. 16 is expected to characterize the events as successful interferences that may be linked to the Chinese government.

“I would say they were demonstrating the science and technology to be able to see what they could gain from it,” said Charles Vick, a senior analyst at GlobalSecurity.org who has been briefed on other government reports about China’s cyber skills. “To a degree one would think that [getting caught] was part of the mentality. It’s a warning. We could do this and a few other things.”

Since the event appears to have been trivial and is now three years old — AND is being publicized at a time when budget-cutting fever is in, I explained to the journalist one of the potential reasons were finding out about it.

Ammo for rationalizations on positive cyberwar/cyberdefense spending. Which readers know is always in vogue.

The journalist agreed this was one sound explanation and nicely addressed it near the end of the piece:

As hackers target U.S. computers with increasing intensity and frequency, the White House on Friday took the unusual step of asking Congress to pass stalled cybersecurity legislation. At first the Obama administration was the slow actor, taking a year to tell Congress which pending measures the president would enact. Now, with pressure to pass other bills, including a Dec. 23 deadline for deficit reduction legislation, the House and Senate are unlikely to agree on comprehensive reforms this year, experts say.

Obama cyber czar Howard Schmidt on Friday tried to light a fire, writing on the White House blog, “Unfortunately, time is not on our side. Since the White House delivered the administration’s proposal to Congress, a number of new security breaches have been reported. We need congressional leaders to move forward with a cross-committee and bipartisan approach.”


“The time is ripe to make proposal into law, and give the government and private sector the extra tools needed to fight those who would harm us,” Schmidt wrote on a White House blog.

Saideth me:

George Smith, a senior fellow at GlobalSecurity.org, said he would be surprised if the Chinese government was behind such sloppy execution, speculating that this may have been practice for a more aggressive attack.

“It would seem unusual to me that they would fiddle with satellites — which gets up the United States’ antennae — and then get caught with it,” he said. “That doesn’t rule out that this was a nation state doing a test run” …

As to why the government is making these sensitive events public now, Smith pointed to the federal government’s push for additional cyber defense funding.

Decent article covering all the bases and quoting from a variety of sources on different sides of the line. Read it here.

1 Comment

  1. user_hostile said,

    October 31, 2011 at 10:50 pm

    Having previously worked in the industry, my BS detector told me immediately this story was invoked as a means “scare for funding”. I am unaware of anyone using the internet as a means of communicating with the satellite. The GEO’s and LEO’s (military and civilian) I worked with always used leased lines (with backups) as a way of maintaining privacy with respect to Ground Stations. To ensure security when sending commands (to US and oversea up/down link stations) encryption is used. Maybe this has changed, but the industry is really conservative–they have insurance companies who will demand container ships full of documents explaining why this is a good idea.

    One hopes they will describe exactly what these agents were up to–but I’m not holding my breath.