1

Pentagon slams Chinese hacking, leases Chinese satellite

A man looks at his laptop computer with a magnifying glass at a cafe in Beijing on November 2, 2012.

Among the worst kept secrets in the global economy is the fact that we're all spying on each other. Sometimes it's good old corporate espionage. But sometimes it's a bit more ominous.

Exhibit A: The Pentagon's latest report to Congress on the threat posed by the Chinese military.

For the first time, Barack Obama's administration says the Chinese are out to get us, cyber-wise, on both national security and corporate networks.

"There is a timing that's important to note here. Congress is trying to push through cybersecurity legislation, and lobbyists are trying to push it through as well," said Kim Zetter, a senior writer at Wired magazine.

But even though the timing of the announcement may be politically expedient, the attacks are common. That has driven more defense contractors into the anti-hacking business. 

"There's a lot of money to be made in government contracts for cybersecurity," Zetter said. "Rather than trying to build up the capability from scratch, [defense contractors] are purchasing whole hog cybersecurity firms to get those contracts." 

Like the Pentagon, contractors draw interest from hackers, only with fewer safeguards. 

"Their networks are often the weaker chokepoint for foreign adversaries. If the federal government has classified information, it's often kept on machines not connected to the internet," Zetter said.

That's because the easiest computer for a Chinese hacker to access is a computer that's online. "Whereas when you have a defense contractor, you have a little more ... fudging in the networks." 

While it's blasting Chinese hacking attempts, the Pentagon is also teaming up with a Chinese manufacturer for an unusual project. As Wired reported last week, the U.S. has leased a Chinese communications satellite for military operations in Africa.  

"You've got a double problem here. One is, you're complaining that they're coming after our data. On the other hand, you're handing them the data," Zetter said. "It's hard to complain afterwards that they steal it." 

That said, there could be another layer of espionage at play, Zetter said.

In a plan befitting James Bond, the government might be sending false data to the satellite, in hopes the Chinese will decrypt it. 

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.
Log in to post1 Comment

Well done interview that highlights some hidden nuances in an increasingly fractious aspect of Sino-American interactions.

With Generous Support From...