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China May Have Hacked U.S. Satellites

by John Reed on October 28, 2011

In case you haven’t see it, numerous news reports emerged this week claiming China may have messed with two U.S. government satellites  by hacking their control station in Norway.

Apparently, hackers gained access to the Landsat-7 (shown above) and Terra AM-1 satellites — both used to monitor climate change and map the Earth’s terrain — four times in 2007 and 2008, according to a draft of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission’s annual report. Landsat-7 experienced 12 minutes of “interference” in October 2007 and July 2008 while Terra AM-1 was “interfered with” for two minutes in June, 2008 and again for nine minutes that October.

The attackers gained access to the U.S. satellites by hacking a control station in Norway, according to the report which doesn’t elaborate on the ‘interference.”

It does however, say that “such interference poses numerous potential threats, particularly if achieved against satellites with more sensitive functions,” according to 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.”

Now, the draft doesn’t specifically call China out on the hacks but it does say they are consistent with recent Chinese military writings that call for disabling a rival’s satellites. The draft apparently goes on to say that China is suspected to be behind a number of malicious cyber incidents against the U.S. in the past year, no surprise there. We’ve been hearing all about suspected Chinese government hacking for years now.

The only bright side to this news is the fact that the satellites were hacked back in 2007 and 2008 — a time when the Pentagon was only starting to get smart on cyber war. Furthermore, these were NASA sats, not Pentagon birds, so they may not have been as well protected as their military counterparts. In the years since, we’ve watched the military get serious about the almost-sisyphean task of protecting its networks and satellites from cyber attacks. The downside of this is that China has also had four years — an eternity in the cyber arena — to improve its hacking skills and learn from the knowledge gained by hacking those satellites.

As the man in charge of the U.S.’ spy satellites, National Reconnaissance Office Director Bruce Carlson, recently said of China and space warfare: “I’d be a lot happier if knew exactly what their intent was. They’re an incredibly modern society but their military philosophy goes all the way back to probably, 4,000 years ago. They believe in deception, that’s just one of their mantras so I remain concerned about their intent, and exactly what it is, I do not know — but I’m concerned about it.”

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{ 41 comments… read them below or add one }

Tim October 28, 2011 at 11:30 am

Something is peculiar if we knew exactly who the culprit was, but chose not to do anything about it. If they could do this to us, imagine what else they could without us knowing it… or do we? :)

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Daedalus October 28, 2011 at 1:00 pm

The problem is… we can trace the attacks to a country of origin, but not to whom actually performed the attack. So we can't accuse the Chinese government when it could have been civilian hackers (which BTW way are often used and paid by the government).

The new cyber cold war means every country will constantly be probing defenses of the other country's systems. The USA can't do anything about it really, besides make sure we make our systems bulletproof.

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Stan October 28, 2011 at 2:21 pm

Well, the US can improve the cyber forensics tools. I think DARPA is working in that direction.

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Jay October 28, 2011 at 7:00 pm

I had a prophetic dream that china invaded by beach invasion. Using t87 amphibious tanks. No shots fired . They came rolling in cautious and slow. Ppl were doing their normal things. Seemed to be about 11am to 1pm on east coast. Sunny day. Perhaps they are able to do it by creating interruptions or .misinformation with radar systems.

I hope the lord helps. They seem to be preparing.
Jay

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HP October 29, 2011 at 2:50 am

Are you sure you didn’t just fall asleep watching ‘Battle for Los Angeles’, which begins in a very similar way?

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dimeck October 28, 2011 at 11:37 am

On the flip side, what are we doing to their satellites? The same thing probably.

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Hahahahaha October 28, 2011 at 11:54 am

Commies, what are you gonna do about them? Lets wait for another national revolution and civil war. Then we'll stomp on the bugs!

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m167a1 October 28, 2011 at 3:46 pm

While I dislike your tone, I'm rapidly coming to the same conclusion. There doesn't appear to be room for both of us, so we need to do all we can to change the situation.

Sadly I think we have our own commie problems at home, before we deal with outsiders we need to figure out who gets to be on what side of the guillotines here. Depending on who this is we will either be fighting them or joining them.

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ABC October 29, 2011 at 3:58 pm

I have a funny feeling you're talking about democrats. I have no intention of ever "joining" the Chinese. I think you are both paranoid and murderous – calm your shit.

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crackedlenses October 30, 2011 at 4:11 pm

And I think you are blind to the bad guys out there……

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jrexilius October 28, 2011 at 12:15 pm

The Art of War (Sun Tzu) is part of our military doctrine as well and used to be taught at the academies. True that the Cold War and more contemporary, civilized trade-based relations required greater transparency, however, if they own your satellites it's kinda besides the point what their intentions are. NRO head's comments are a little silly to say the least.

Is he implying that it would be not as big of a deal if we got reassurances that they just wanted to borrow them and they'd GLADLY pay us on Tuesday for the use of our satellites today… ?

All I have to say on the matter is WTF..

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nraddin November 1, 2011 at 1:14 pm

No he is not saying that at all. He is saying that he wished he knew what their intentions where. While it is unlikely that he would ever know exactly what their intentions where, it would be nice to know much more than he does. Are these attacks even from the government? If they are, is it a prelude to more attacks? Just testing their offence against the best defense they can find? Or worry that we plan to attack them? The Chinese have always held their cards close to their chest, even the USSR was more transparent than the Chinese.

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Jay November 28, 2011 at 10:34 pm

Well , heres another one for you.
The u.s. Will be involved in a military operation near somalia. Look for that soon. Back to China. In my dream they had no emotions on thier faces. They were going after unarmed citizens. They were ruthless. There are a lot of them. I could feel we were occupied and our military was no where. Ppl were going in wooded areas to hide. They followed to flush americans out of the woods. Protrolling.

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Brian Black October 28, 2011 at 1:08 pm

Has China really learnt anything worthwhile for their troubles?

If these incidents are the work of China, they seem to be achieving nothing more than p’ssing people off, while simultaneously alerting other nations to the threat and to the vulnerabilities that particular systems have.

Perhaps by the time that China actually needs to mess with US or Indian (etc.) military satellites and networks, everyone will be well prepared for it.

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cozine October 28, 2011 at 1:42 pm

US and Indian in one breath? Wow you certainly think very highly of the latter.

Remember the barking dogs don't bite.

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m167a1 October 28, 2011 at 3:49 pm

Classic probing attack, used as proof of concept.
We got in, but were detected. Try something else next time.
That said, If they are really doing this and not simulating in house ,there must be a reason. I suspect we won't like it.

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Jay October 28, 2011 at 7:09 pm

I had a prophetic dream china attacked us. They beach invaded with t87 amphibious tanks. They come in quietly and cautiously. Ppl are coming in and out of places , normally. They drive down the street and ppl are confused as to whats going on. Someone said is there a military parade going on?? But each tank has a red star on it. Im thinking they manipulate our satallites so we dont see them on radar as they advance. Hope the lord prepares us. They seem to catch military off gaurd. They were in absolute control. Many ppl run for woods for cover. Seems to be late summer , sunny day.
Jay

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Brian Black October 29, 2011 at 7:35 am

Go Wolverines!

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HP October 29, 2011 at 4:26 pm

Well, the intelligence agencies can all go home then, because we have your dreams to tell us what is going to happen.

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RCDC October 28, 2011 at 1:17 pm

We should secure all our satellite control station, servers and all national data all the time.

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cozine October 28, 2011 at 1:46 pm

The top sensitive data should not be physically accessible through the network, regardless of how many levels of firewalls etc. are there.

If the new is released, then that meant no harm was done, and the only purpose of releasing the news was to get the small fish in the pond jumping.

Those cyber warfare attacks are reciprocal, and you'll never hear about them unless you are "on the inside".

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jumper October 28, 2011 at 2:10 pm

It isn't. Secure networks have no physical connections to the outside world (unless someone commits a HUGE comsec violation). The Landsat system isn't exactly "military" and the data is available to anyone who wants it. Hacking it is a bit idiotic, to be honest. As a return gesture we should show them what an exo-atmospheric kill vehicle is by frying a couple of their weather satellites.

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morty October 28, 2011 at 1:23 pm

THERE WATCHING US!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Panzer April 11, 2012 at 11:12 pm

*They're
And what are they going to do, send a bunch of working warrior-children after us?

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Tim October 28, 2011 at 1:52 pm

Why are Satellittes , power stations , water supplies , military installations connected to the friggin Internet ???

It’s madness any need for Internet / email communication should be done via laptops seperate from the systems running the above.

What next the Chinese control a US ICBM ?

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Ebbe October 28, 2011 at 2:13 pm

We always hear about the Chinese hacking someone, but rarely hear about the US hacking anyone. Does that mean that the US is so good it never gets caught? I'm assuming the US does hack. The NSA must be able to get into any computer it wants.

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m167a1 October 28, 2011 at 3:50 pm

We like to plant virus' instead.. Did this as long ago as 91.

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Prodozul October 28, 2011 at 2:19 pm

These systems that have access to the satellite's themselves should only have a group of computers that are on a closed/private network!

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m167a1 October 28, 2011 at 3:50 pm

Air gap…

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guest October 30, 2011 at 4:55 pm

If "their military philosophy goes all the way back to probably, 4,000 years ago" then knowing their "intent" is as simple as the "ABC's"… Their intent is to "Over-throw, & Conquer". JEEPERS! Anyone who can read history books knows their intent.

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Mike October 30, 2011 at 8:51 pm

Commies are not cool.

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HeyYo October 30, 2011 at 10:08 pm

those of you that think that if they are connected to only a group of closed computers that they couldnt be hacked are mistakein … they are satellite's… they recieve and transmit data… its not like they have a lan line ran up to them …. with the proper frequency they can send a signal to the satellite's and bounce that signal to the computers in norway to take over them .,.. no internet required

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Left field lol October 31, 2011 at 8:54 am

China has found out that earth is going to be invaded, by aliens that have very good hacking tech, and to prepare our defences the chinese our hacking everybody, under the guize of taking back former territory to keep the aliens from finding out. And if the chinese end up with a bigger country thats a plus for them…

lolololololol, The previous therory was submitted after a night of little sleep.

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txkboy October 31, 2011 at 10:14 am

Where is Cyber Command and SPAWAR in all of this? Isn’t that exactly what they were designed to prevent? I fear my tax dollars are sorely losing their effectiveness. Their spies at our facilities and, it’s no secret they’ve got a strong hacker program. We sent most of them to school here. When are we going to wisen up and knock-off the student passports?

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steve October 31, 2011 at 12:30 pm

They were just probably checking on the status of the Wal-Marts to see if they needed to be restocked with more Chinese made junk.

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Wind Walker November 1, 2011 at 10:49 am

Their intent is the complete and utter control of this world no matter what it takes.
“All In Good Time my pretty one”
Know your enemy first (physical), second (emotional) and third (mental).
Study their past history, culture and their beliefs.
They will always take the good lessons from history and then use them against you.
Listen to what they say and then reverse it for there will you find the hidden truth.
Or learn how to play chess backwards.
The belief in “Mother China” is greater than all else in their world.
For they eat, sleep, work and believe in one thing only “Mother China”.
They will combine mobility, discipline, adaptability, strategy, strength, and endurance in direct battle with skills in intelligence gathering, psychological warfare, siege warfare, and superb communications.
For they will trust no one.

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Jay November 2, 2011 at 10:20 am

The Satellites they got are "used to monitor climate change"

It seems that the Chinese are working with Al Gore, and introducing new data into the sat feeds to "hide the decline" (in global temperature). They hope that the US will buy into the global warming myth, and approve cap and trade to limit our carbon emissions. This is along term strategy to get the US to kneecap itself with new regulations that will handicap our industry and energy production, making China the only profitable place for investment and production.
Then as our industry declines and theirs increases their military gradually becomes much more powerful than ours. Genius!

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LEELISA K.H March 17, 2012 at 8:03 am

That’s possible @ Jay.

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Jill Trotchie December 6, 2012 at 6:25 pm

okay now who isnt guilty of the same thing-everyone sniffs around each other's military's we need to stay on top of the pile or russia is gonna sneak up and surprise us-how about special force olympics-between each military speacial forces-i think my boys in the us special forces have it in the bag-mexicans win the sonya contest

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david burrows June 6, 2013 at 9:17 pm

we should have put a nuke supply for energy on them and then crashed them in to one of there grat cities and said that someone mssed with it and we are sorry

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