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U.S./World

Satellite interference traced to hackers consistent with Chinese

| Thursday, Oct. 27, 2011

WASHINGTON -- Computer hackers, possibly from the Chinese military, interfered with two U.S. government satellites four times in 2007 and 2008 through a ground station in Norway, according to the final draft of a report by a congressional commission.

The intrusions on the satellites, used for earth climate and terrain observation, highlight the potential danger posed by hackers, according to excerpts of the annual report by the U.S.- China Economic and Security Review Commission. The report is scheduled to be released next month.

"Such interference poses numerous potential threats, particularly if achieved against satellites with more sensitive functions," according to the draft. "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."

A Landsat-7 earth observation satellite system experienced 12 or more minutes of interference in October 2007 and July 2008, according to the report.

Hackers interfered with a Terra AM-1 earth observation satellite twice, for two minutes in June 2008 and nine minutes in October of that year, the draft says, citing a closed-door U.S. Air Force briefing.

The draft report doesn't elaborate on the nature of the hackers' interference with the satellites.

U.S. military and intelligence agencies use satellites to communicate, collect intelligence and conduct reconnaissance. The draft doesn't accuse the Chinese government of conducting or sponsoring the four attacks. It says the breaches are consistent with Chinese military writings that advocate disabling an enemy's space systems, and particularly "ground-based infrastructure, such as satellite control facilities."

U.S. authorities for years have accused the Chinese government of orchestrating cyber attacks against adversaries and hacking into foreign computer networks to steal military and commercial secrets. Assigning definitive blame is difficult, the draft says, because the perpetrators obscure their involvement.

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