China is the chief suspect in a in a string of hacking incidents on U.S. satellites that took place four or more times in 2007 and 2008.
The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, which reported on the interference on satellites, said that it was consistent with previous Chinese tactics. It noted that several times the Landsat-7 and the Terra AM-1 earth observation systems were targeted through a station in Norway. A report of the incidents said that the hackers had the capability to command the Terra AM-1 satellite, according to Reuters.
Such interference poses numerous potential threats, particularly if achieved against satellites with more sensitive functions, says 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.
It has not been made public what happened during the attacks, however, it is reported that from two minutes to 12 minutes, something or someone had interfered with the satellites. This event could have profound implications for the future. U.S.-Chinese relations could be even further strained, if the Chinese are in fact using cyberwarfare against the United States.
Larry Wortzel, one of the 12 commissioners on the commission and a retired Army colonel and former military envoy in China, cautioned the commission that there is a possibility it was not China. However, he did also remind them that Beijing had conducted space warfare systems during the same time.
I don't think it is a wild analytical leap to suggest that these hacks could have been part of that matrix of testing, Wortzel said in an email to Reuters.
The claims have not been fully linked to China yet. However, they are consistent with Chinese military writings that have suggested interfering with satellites. Pinpointing a cyberattack is an extremely difficult task. Hackers are able to divert their traces to make it appear as if they are in another country.
The commission's accusation is based largely on a May 12 U.S. Air Force briefing. The final report by the Air Force will be out Nov. 16 of this year.
The targeted spacecraft are used specifically for monitoring land and weather. The Landsat-7 satellite is managed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the U.S. Geological Survey. It experienced 12 or more minutes of interference during October 2007 and July 2008. The Terra AM-1 observation satellite is managed by NASA. It was interfered with on June 20, 2008 for two minutes and at least nine minutes on Oct. 22, 2008.
This revelation comes on the heels of China's increased space exploration and technology.