Chinese Cyberattack Hit U.S. Satellites In September, NOAA Covered It Up, Report Says

A Chinese cyberattack nearly crippled many major United States satellite operations in late September, an explosive exposé in the Washington Post revealed Wednesday. But even more shocking, the agency in charge of the vital satellite data and operations kept quiet about the nearly devastating Chinese hacker attack for nearly a month, the Post story says.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which manages the network of satellites that provide the GPS data that you use ever day on your smartphone and in your car — as well as that used by major business and government operations — confirmed Wednesday that the story was true. The satellites were the victims of a major cyberattack.

The perpetrators of the cyberattack were almost certainly Chinese hackers, the report said.

The NOAA, which also runs the network of satellites that provide weather information for everything from navigation of ships and aircraft to everyday vacation planning, was forced by the Chinese cyberattack to shut off data systems “vital to disaster planning, aviation, shipping and scores of other crucial uses,” the Post reported.

But the agency reported its response to the cyberattack as nothing more than “unscheduled maintenance.”

The Chinese cyberattack was apparently possible even though, in July, an inspector general for the satellite agency blasted the NOAA for “significant security deficiencies” that, the Inspector General’s (IG) report said, “could provide an attacker with access” to the systems that relay distress signals to search and rescue operations, among other crucial functions.

Though the NOAA said it agreed with the IG report’s findings, it needed more time to take action to fix the security problems, because it had to review Air Force classified data.

The Air Force was one of the most significant entities affected by the Chinese cyberattack, which the NOAA kept to itself until October 20.

The cyberattack was yet another serious problem for the beleaguered National Weather Service, which relies on satellite data managed by the NOAA. In May, the NWS suffered some sort of a service interruption that cut off its ability to send out disaster warnings, even though parts of the country were experiencing a rash of tornadoes at that time.

And earlier Wednesday, the NWS sent out a series of tornado warnings that turned out to be based on data from four years ago — another alarming technical glitch.

Cybersecurity expert Jacob Olcott said that the Chinese cyberattack probably was not aimed at disrupting U.S. weather information but rather was an attempt by the Chinese hackers to find a “back door” into even more sophisticated U.S. security networks.