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United States China Government Security

China Hacked a Navy Contractor and Secured a Trove of Highly Sensitive Data on Submarine Warfare (washingtonpost.com) 112

Ellen Nakashima and Paul Sonne, reporting for The Washington Post: Chinese government hackers have compromised the computers of a Navy contractor, stealing massive amounts of highly sensitive data related to undersea warfare -- including secret plans to develop a supersonic anti-ship missile for use on U.S. submarines by 2020, according to American officials. The breaches occurred in January and February, the officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation. The hackers targeted a contractor who works for the Naval Undersea Warfare Center, a military organization headquartered in Newport, R.I., that conducts research and development for submarines and underwater weaponry. The officials did not identify the contractor. Taken were 614 gigabytes of material relating to a closely held project known as Sea Dragon, as well as signals and sensor data, submarine radio room information relating to cryptographic systems, and the Navy submarine development unit's electronic warfare library. The Washington Post agreed to withhold certain details about the compromised missile project at the request of the Navy, which argued that their release could harm national security.

China Hacked a Navy Contractor and Secured a Trove of Highly Sensitive Data on Submarine Warfare

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  • Heard this before (Score:4, Informative)

    by eneville ( 745111 ) on Friday June 08, 2018 @03:24PM (#56751722) Homepage

    ... it was in the book 'The Cuckoo's Egg'.

    • I was about to post this, but you were first.

  • by Viol8 ( 599362 ) on Friday June 08, 2018 @03:33PM (#56751768) Homepage

    I think that horse has bolted and is grazing happily in a field right now.

    You'd think a defense contractor would know not to store top secret information on internet accessible machines but I guess there's stupid in every organisation.

    • Yeah they were probably internet attached using Windows 7 Pro instead of the much more secure Windows 10 Enterprise

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Hey! They used store it behind a Cisco firewall. That's safe, right? right?

        • yeah the only issue with those cisco firewall is the breathing of the NSA I hear when on my cisco phone, but yeah they are tight as a drum for security.

    • by PPH ( 736903 )

      You'd think a defense contractor would know

      They have a really good example [fedscoop.com].

    • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
      The FBI attempts to help this by sending 2 agents with accents to random contractors. One to witness the other.
      They make "offers" for "cash" to a contractor and wait to see what the contractors does.
      Report all details as told to?
      Accept the offer?
      So many contractors now. The few FBI agents with accents and the same security clearance level have so much work to do all over the USA.
    • Top secret? I doubt it. The WaPo article that the /. post links to says "The data stolen was of a highly sensitive nature despite being housed on the contractor’s unclassified network. The officials said the material, when aggregated, could be considered classified..." So if the "officials" are telling the truth, there wasn't any classified material there.

      The "aggregated" statement is the notion that if you put enough of the right unclass material together, it becomes classified. I know a little a

      • "The Washington Post agreed to withhold certain details about the compromised missile project at the request of the Navy, which argued that their release could harm national security."

        So letting Americans know what the Chinese know is a threat. That's hard for me to understand.

        • For better or worse, I think that's standard procedure in cases like this. Maybe they meant they didn't want the Russians, Koreans and Iranians to get a hold of the information too.

          Some on this /. page have suggested this might have been a honey pot, with misleading information. I have no idea, but that would be comforting :-).

  • by OpenSourceAllTheWay ( 4894965 ) on Friday June 08, 2018 @03:36PM (#56751784)
    Ever seen a knockoff sneaker with Niiikee printed on it that you can wear for 2 weeks before it comes apart? Or an AyePhone X with a 800 x 460 pixel screen and Android running on it? Or a Chinese knockoff of a Ford SUV that crumbles to dust when it hits an obstacle at a mere 30MPH? Well... heeeeere comes the submarine equivalent of that: The engine makes enough noise to be detected from a continent away. The sub can dive to about 150 feet before the hull cracks and everybody on board dies. And when they try to launch missiles from the sub, the missiles launch vertically down, exploding the sea floor... aaand the knockoff submarine as well. Tom Clancy could have written a novel about this: The Hunt For Red Shrimp.
  • Is it just a coincidence that data on Sea "Dragon" is being reported as stolen by China? If you were to bait a hook for a Chinese hacker, might you consider adding "Dragon" to the bait?
  • I needed to do this to get plans detailed enough to be able to finally build 1/32 scale models of yours (cool) secret projects, but I promise not to do it again ok?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 08, 2018 @03:46PM (#56751846)

    Just to remember. There was a time, long ago, when lots of security features were being developed and the NSA and other US security agencies intervened to make that more difficult.

    • Export restrictions on security features so that all software had to be developed in an insecure version, with maybe a bit of time spent on a secure version.
    • Backdoors so that everything was inherently insecure and overcomplicated.
    • Failing to tell companies about vulnerabilities so they continued to develop insecure software.
    • Failing to tell the public about insecurities so they continued to be unable to choose the more secure software.
    • Arresting the ethical and uninterested hackers so nobody made the public care about security.
    • Most of all, failing to insist that the software developed for government was secure so that nobody bothered.
    • Interfering with the popularity of projects like FreeS/WAN instead of making them mandatory.

    Now, when Trump starts some needless, stupid war against China, many American servicemen's lives will be lost because the NSA failed to do it's basic job - secure the communications and information of the USA. Or more likely, worse, the Chinese will feel bold enough to close off free navigation through the south China sea and eventually be powerful enough to destroy the US economy.

    It's not that they weren't warned. They still did it and there are still traitors demanding backdoors in encryption.

  • Seriously? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Zamphatta ( 1760346 ) on Friday June 08, 2018 @03:48PM (#56751860) Homepage
    I have a hard time believing that in 2018, the gov't & its contractors, aren't locking down national security military secrets better than this. It's so close to unbelievable to me, that I have to wonder if this is misinformation left on a honeypot server. If the US gov't is really this loose with their classified information at this point in history....
    • Prove to me it wasn't intentional espionage. There's a million ways for a mole to plausibly leak sensitive information without the mole being discovered.

      • Not saying it definitely wasn't and can't say it definitely was, since none of us have all the information about the situation. I'm just saying that from my view, the gov't would have to be incredibly negligent with their most important secrets for this stuff to just be taken like this, and that really seems incredibly unlikely [google.com]. After all, anyone who knows a little about security knows they should keep highly sensitive stuff like this heavily encrypted, offline, & with physical access very very limited.
    • Re:Seriously? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by DatbeDank ( 4580343 ) on Friday June 08, 2018 @03:58PM (#56751918)

      I have a hard time believing that in 2018, the gov't & its contractors, aren't locking down national security military secrets better than this. It's so close to unbelievable to me, that I have to wonder if this is misinformation left on a honeypot server. If the US gov't is really this loose with their classified information at this point in history....

      I tell myself the same thing.
      I'm almost willing to bet this is a honeypot operation and the leaked data is otherwise useless or better yet has faults built in that we can manipulate.

      If not, there better be extreme punishments involved for the contractor in question and it should be through the military court system.

      And how in the hell do they not notice 614 f*cking GIGABYTES of data being transferred? Their sysadmin just sat there and thought, "Derp derp, I wonder who is transferring so much data to IP addresses based in the far east?"

    • by CHK6 ( 583097 )
      Hackers is an open term. For all we know there was some "pillow talk" involved with the spy operation and the contractor might have been morally compromised allowing foreign actors to gain access.

      It's far easier to break a man's morals than encryption keys.
    • I know someone first hand who had been translating plans and manuals for cruise missles for a NATO partner country. That was 3 years before there was an official vote to decide wether these would be stationed or not. In the 80ies the peace movement launched large-scale protests agains the CMs, argueing that they could carry nukes. Which is nigh pointless in such a high precision weapon. Word had it that the peace protests where funded and organised by CIA blackops to make the CMs more scary and have the loc

  • by david.emery ( 127135 ) on Friday June 08, 2018 @03:56PM (#56751910)

    The rules for protecting Sensitive data are less stringent than for actually Classified data. (And just because some reporter uses the word 'secret', I'm not convinced from this article that the material was actually classified.)

    If classified data was actually placed on a machine that was not properly secured, multiple people should go directly to jail. If this was a breach of a contractor system with 'FOUO' sensitive (but not classified) data, then there's a much higher bar for 'go to jail.' That being said, I'd fully expect there to be substantial consequences against the contractor, up to being kicked off and forbidden to bid on subsequent contracts.

    • by rworne ( 538610 )

      An article I read called the data "sensitive", which in itself does not mean anything.

      What I gleaned is that the data was unclassified, but when aggregated together, classified information can be gleaned from it.

      You seem to have the idea, but for the sake of others here, this is an example that is not a car analogy:

      Materials A & B, processes C, C', & C'' and product D are all unclassified

      Which process you use affects the end quality/effectiveness/cost of D.

      So we have a list of studies on A and B on

      • And that's a real issue with technical data like this. On the one hand, there's the risk of aggregation that yields classified results. That would in theory make the system holding -all that data (or a set of systems that can be 'joined' to yield the result) classified. On the other hand, there's the problem in deciding just how much aggregation yields a classified result, and then the consequences of -making that decision-. Working in a classified environment is hard (costly and very inconvenient), the

        • by Kjella ( 173770 )

          And the alternative is...? I seem to remember a case I read once but somebody (given the time frame, probably the Russians) was collecting data on overtime pizza delivered to intelligence agencies. And I can sorta understand that, every time they discovered something big you'd have people working around the clock to figure it out. I can understand why you'd want to keep that a secret, on the other hand it's really hard for accounting and everyone else to pretend it didn't happen.

          • We had discussions in my (nuclear-capable) National Guard artillery unit (during the Cold War, when every artillery unit trained for that mission) whether the Chaplain's Visitation Schedule should be classified, because it might reveal the location of the firing batteries.

  • by Thud457 ( 234763 ) on Friday June 08, 2018 @04:01PM (#56751940) Homepage Journal
    "614 gigabytes" " in January and February"

    So they were exfiltrating 10 Gigabytes a day from the contractor's network and nobody noticed?!!
    • by CrimsonAvenger ( 580665 ) on Friday June 08, 2018 @04:32PM (#56752136)

      The part that struck me as ludicrous was the "secret plans to develop a supersonic anti-ship missile for use on U.S. submarines by 2020".

      You can't get a new stove approved for submarine use in two years, much less develop and certify a new missile....

      • The USA has had torpedo tube launched anti-ship missiles for decades.

        Ours pop out of the water, the Russians create a bubble in front of theirs and haul ass in the water. Ours can turn.

        • The USA has had torpedo tube launched anti-ship missiles for decades.

          Yeppers. And the process for developing & approving a new one takes longer than two years. MUCH longer than two years.

          • Updated blocks on the other hand...development of an updated version in four years isn't insane. Especially as we don't know how far along the development is.

      • The part that struck me as ludicrous was the "secret plans to develop a supersonic anti-ship missile for use on U.S. submarines by 2020".

        You can't get a new stove approved for submarine use in two years, much less develop and certify a new missile....

        If there was 617 GB of data sitting there to be pilfered, they must have been working on it a good while.

    • So they were exfiltrating 10 Gigabytes a day from the contractor's network and nobody noticed?!!

      No problem: sneak one 256 Gig microSD card per day for 3 days.
      Maybe stuck it up his ass.

  • by kiviQr ( 3443687 ) on Friday June 08, 2018 @04:22PM (#56752078)
    just line up and pay $1bln you will go back to doing business as usual
  • If you want to know a lot about development of nuclear submarines and assorted espionage (mostly Russia/US though), look up Blind Man's Bluff on Amazon. Great book.

  • I mean we read stories all the time where military secrets are stolen all the time and yet it seems like Apple's biggest secrets are never leaked. Maybe they are and maybe most of us can't recognize these, just me asking. Trump has advantage that if any of his secrets are stolen (probably of bankrupt value) or disclosed he can simply shout "fake news" and it's end of discussion.
    • by 8086 ( 705094 )
      I've looked at Apple's biggest secrets and there really aren't any bigger secrets in there than just good engineering and good UI design.
  • The Washington Post agreed to withhold certain details about the compromised missile project at the request of the Navy, which argued that their release could harm national security.

    Yeah, it might get out to the Chinese.

  • Get Gibbs and his team on the case, track down them wily Chinese operatives pronto!

    Really, is anyone even surprised at any of this shit anymore? Everything is hackable now, nothing is safe. Remember that at least half of us has had ALL of their financial data stolen from them in the Equifax breach, and by now there's probably a million copies of all of that floating around the world. Meanwhile dickheads in the EU and corporate assholes here in the States are more concerned about 'losing profits to piracy
    • Everything is hackable now, nothing is safe.

      Particularly if it is Windows.

      Things have got to change.

      Installing or using Windows in government should be a firing offence.

  • The Washington Post agreed to withhold certain details ... at the request of the Navy ...

    ... requested this of the goddam contractor.

  • Go ahead, tell me it's not Windows. Basically, Microsoft threw an election to Trump and national security to China.

  • FTFA: The data stolen was of a highly sensitive nature despite being housed on the contractor’s unclassified network.

    You've got to assume that anything on a system that's attached to the internet is going to be compromised sooner or later.

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