Hackers Infiltrate Pentagon's $300 Billion Fighter Jet Project

By Eliza Strickland | April 21, 2009 8:51 am

Joint Strike FighterCyber spies have hacked into computers containing information about the U.S. Defense Department’s most expensive weapons program ever: the $300 billion Joint Strike Fighter, a fighter jet also known as F35 Lightning II. The intruders were able to copy and siphon off several terabytes of data related to design and electronics systems, officials say, potentially making it easier to defend against the craft. The latest intrusions provide new evidence that a battle is heating up between the U.S. and potential adversaries over the data networks that tie the world together [The Wall Street Journal].

U.S. officials reportedly traced the hackers back to China, but experts note that it’s extremely difficult to determine the real origin of an online attack, as paths can be disguised and identities masked. Meanwhile, 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” [The Wall Street Journal].

Officials believe the hackers infiltrated the networks of several contractors who were working on the Joint Strike Fighter program. They say it’s impossible to know exactly what information the spies absconded with, as they inserted technology that encrypted the data as it was being transmitted. However, the hackers couldn’t get to the most sensitive information regarding the fighter jets. Officials say that the plane’s most vital systems — such as flight controls and sensors — are physically isolated from the publicly accessible Internet [The Wall Street Journal].

This incident comes on the heels of the revelation two weeks ago that spies have hacked into the U.S. electrical grid, and left behind software that could allow them to disrupt the flow of electricity around the nation. Officials claimed to have traced those attacks back to China, Russia, and other countries.

Related Content:
80beats: Electrical Espionage: Spies Hack Into the U.S. Power Grid
80beats: Is the U.S. Government Losing the Battle Against Hackers?
80beats: Russian Invasion Included the First Real Use of “Cyber Warfare”

Image: U.S. Air Force

  • Carman

    Perhaps we can get the hackers to figure out how to repair the Trident as well?

  • http://clubneko.net Nick

    I think it’s just as likely that the hacks originated *here* – think of how many times in our history we’ve had spies, sometimes at very high levels. And, I mean, WOW, terabytes of data? This must have gone on quite a while before they noticed it, especially over slow international links (yes, even if the hacks originated here they could easily route through foreign countries – what better cover than to blame those we love to rattle sabres at?).

    I wish they’d spend $300 billion trying to fix us instead of on ways of killing people who aren’t really even threatening us.

    Think of it this way – terrorism is like cancer – cutting it out (surgery as a metaphor for war) will almost certainly leave behind remnants, and you only need one to keep the fight alive. Remove the will to fight (hypothetical: if everyone is rolling around in luxury vehicles, seriously, what’s the motivation to bomb?) and you remove the threat.

  • Jim

    I don’t understand why the defense computers are linked to the internet. I work in research for a Fortune 500 company, anything I do that is sensitive is not connected to the inter or intranet. Anything on a computer that is connected to a network must be considered public knowledge because there is no level of certainty of confidentiality. The contractors were irresponsible and should be fined. The DOD created the intranet when it created Darpanet. They should have their own isolated separate network. If they could do it in the 70’s then can certainly do it today.

  • http://discovermagazine.com John Cassady

    So Nick, you think we should give terrorists luxury cars? Thank you for making it so easy to ignore your comments.

  • Grant H

    “And, I mean, WOW, terabytes of data”

    Yes, even my little country with limited popution and resources has a 622Mbps connection to Seattle from our 10 Gb national research network. That’s just an education network. Students at schools and Universities have access to it. That’s a capacity to download a GB from Internet2 or NLR through Seattle in just 12 seconds. And we really are small.
    There are advanced fibre networks lighting up many parts of the globe now, and it’s expanding.

  • Jim123

    Cold war is over my @#%#! butt. They’re just keeping their heads down while assist them in building up.

  • CoryC

    *sigh* We need to give up. China rules our a$$e$ now anyway… Why spend 300 billion to make a jet when they now know almost all about it. Hell, we’re making a 300 billion dollar piece of flying junk. Just wait, in a few years we’ll see the Fake 22 Raptor out for sale at 1/5 the price and the Chinese’ll probably sell it to everyone they can, just like they do fake Harry Potter books and fake DVDs.

  • Dan

    John, although I get your point regarding Nick’s statement about giving terrorists luxury cars, but I don’t think Nick was specifically intending on actually wanting the government to do so. I just think Nick was being idealistic, and was simply throwing ideas out into the public. I don’t think you should have attacked him in that manner.

  • Boberto

    i agree with dan

  • Percival

    The public is WAY too resourceful and nosy now to blindly believe everything the government says/does. What Jim says is a perfect example of politicians sending up false flags in order for the public to except the idea of our troops going to act as world police and fight unnecessary wars.

    Didn’t a high school student get in a lot of trouble a few years ago for hacking into the pentagon? Its clearly not as difficult as it should be. I worked at a newspaper and even OUR sensitive information and not-yet edited stories weren’t exchanged back and forth over the internet. And we were just a medium sized newspaper competing with the readership the Washington Post has… with the majority of our world news coming from McClatchy, Getty and the AP.

    The accusations smell really fishy.

  • Robert

    The US has tamped down our hacker community to enough of a degree that it pales in comparison to the communities in China and Russia which were embraced by the state to use for their own advancement. This article while disappointing, isn’t really surprising to me. Our govt lacks the will to apply the proper security to their most valuable secrets and lacks the manpower to protect it. So they either need to create a non-internet connected network for R&D or they need to get use to us doing all the research for Russia and China’s military.

    It’s really pathetic that in the richest country in the world we’ll spend billions of dollars to develop something but won’t spend the money to properly protect it. I guess we should all just sit back and keep telling ourselves we’re the greatest everything in the world and just keep riding on our past accomplishments as it all deteriorates under us.

    The lethargy of our government is pathetic.

  • pariah

    Bottom line is that this is just our government’s propaganda telling lies. They make vulnerable information on their networks that they want to be hacked, if it even happened at all. It is probably an extension of their constant campaign to incite fear and patriotic idiocy in the US populace.

  • Vochilleot

    @nick, people having nice things isnt going to stop them from doing evil.. look at any crimelord.. rich as balls, still killin fools

  • o0RaidR0o

    I don’t think it will stop the evil that men do by helping the under privileged countries, but it will make it harder for them to recruit from if we shrink the poverty stricken class.

  • LoNeSt4r

    Why in God’s name are these computers connected to the internet?!

  • Primus

    Now china will copy the f-16 model and mass-produce it like what they do in other things. This only shows how the American security can easily be britched. I can see that very soon we will at Chiniese, Russian mercy. The world is going back to the communists!

  • Fred Sherwood

    The news that the U.S. is planning to spend $300 billion on the F35 has been public for some time, and I’m sure we all agree hacking info on its technology is a bad thing. How about if we agree we don’t want to spend $300 billion on a single fighter jet?



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