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Chinese Hacked U.S. Military Contractors, Senate Probe Finds

Gaps in reporting left the military unaware of most of the intrusions.

Reuters / Pichi Chuang

Hackers associated with the Chinese government have repeatedly infiltrated the computer systems of U.S. airlines, technology companies and other firms involved in the movement of U.S. troops and military equipment, a U.S. Senate panel has found.

The Senate Armed Services Committee’s year-long probe, details of which were made public on Wednesday, found that the military’s U.S. Transportation Command, or Transcom, was aware of only two out of at least 20 such cyber intrusions within a single year.

The committee’s investigation also found gaps in reporting requirements and a lack of information sharing among U.S. government entities. That in turn left the U.S. military largely unaware of computer compromises of its contractors, it found.

“These peacetime intrusions into the networks of key defense contractors are more evidence of China’s aggressive actions in cyberspace,” Democratic Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the committee’s chairman, said in releasing the report.

The investigation focused on the U.S. military’s ability to seamlessly tap into civilian air, shipping and other transportation assets for rapid troop deployments and the timely arrival of supplies from food to ammunition to fuel.

In a 12-month period beginning June 1, 2012, there were about 50 intrusions or other cyber events in the computer networks of Transcom contractors, the 52-page report stated.

At least 20 of those were successful intrusions attributed to an “advanced persistent threat,” a term used to designate sophisticated threats commonly associated with governments. All of those intrusions were attributed to China, the report stated.

Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, the committee’s top Republican, called for a “central clearinghouse” that makes it easy for contractors, especially small businesses, to report suspicious cyber activity.

Among the investigation’s discoveries was that a “Chinese military intrusion” into a Transcom contractor between 2008 and 2010 “compromised emails, documents, user passwords and computer code.” In 2012, an intrusion was made into multiple systems of a commercial ship contracted by Transcom, the report said.

The Senate probe could further increase tensions between the two world powers over cyber spying.

Officials with the Chinese embassy in Washington were not immediately available to comment.

The results of the investigation were revealed months after U.S. authorities in May charged five Chinese military officers and accused them of hacking into American nuclear, metal and solar companies to steal trade secrets.

Last month, Community Health Systems, one of the largest U.S. hospital groups, said Chinese hackers had stolen Social Security numbers and other personal data from some 4.5 million patients.

(Reporting by Ros Krasny; Editing by Susan Heavey and Will Dunham)

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