Cyberspies have hacked into government computers and stolen sensitive information on a next-generation stealth fighter, according to an investigation published in The Wall Street Journal
Tuesday. The hackers lifted terabytes of data on the Pentagon's $300 billion Joint Strike Fighter project, the Journal reports, including details about the aircraft's design that could expose vulnerabilities.
The hack is believed to have happened through a hole in a contractors' network. Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and BAE Systems are the primary contractors on the project. None of them has publicly commented.
Beyond the Fighter Jet Hack
While the details surrounding the reported Joint Strike Fighter breach are far from clear -- how the intruders made off with such a massive amount of data, for example, has yet to be revealed -- there's no question the magnitude of the attack is alarming. Even worse, the unnamed officials cited in the story say hackers have worked their way into the U.S. Air Force air traffic control system recently as well.
This wouldn't be the first time sensitive (and theoretically secure) government systems have been attacked in America. Here's a look at seven other startling hacks from the past.
1. The Analyzer Attacks
An Israeli teen named Ehud Tenenbaum pulled off what was described as the "most organized and systematic attack to date" on U.S. government computers back in 1998. Tenenbaum -- better known by his alias, "The Analyzer" -- used an unpatched Solaris vulnerability to gain access to Pentagon systems, sparking a seven-agency investigation. He initially received a six-month community service sentence along with probation and a fine, but later served 15 months in an Israeli prison.
2. Moonlight Maze
A 1999 case dubbed "Moonlight Maze" received a similarly superlative-laced treatment: Called the "most extensive cyber-attack ever aimed at the U.S. government," the operation involved Russian hackers getting into Department of Defense computers for an entire year before being detected. The cyberthieves stole mountains of sensitive data, including information from nuclear weapon labs, NASA, and various defense contractors' networks.
3. The UFO Searcher
A British man is still under investigation for allegedly hacking into Pentagon computers during a year-and-a-half-long attack. Gary McKinnon is accused of using the codename "Solo" to break into government computers starting in 2001. The attacks are blamed for causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage and taking down entire military networks. (Perhaps not surprisingly, they were referred to as the "biggest military hack of all time.") McKinnon said he was only looking for signs of UFO activity. In what's become a lengthy battle against extradition to America, McKinnon most recently won an appeal to apply for a formal judicial review against the extradition, with his lawyers claiming he would be "at risk of suicide" if sent overseas.
4. This Isn't Napster
An 18-year-old said he only wanted to download music and movies when he decided to hack into the Fermi National Accelerator Lab in Chicago, a high-energy physics research center, in 2002. Joseph McElroy managed to gain access to the lab's network, setting off a national security alert and shutting the systems down for three days. McElroy apparently used his own custom program to crack the network's codes. He received only 200 hours of community service for the offense.
5. Stolen Secrets
In 2004, a group of Chinese hackers called "Titan Rain" started making their way into U.S. military systems. The cybercrooks gained access to all sorts of sensitive info, it's believed, including military vehicle plans and the Army and Air Force's flight-planning software. Investigators think their techniques were used at the U.S. Army Information Systems Engineering Command at Fort Huachuca, Arizona; the Defense Information Systems Agency in Arlington, Virginia; the Naval Ocean Systems Center in San Diego; and the U.S. Army Space and Strategic Defense installation in Huntsville, Alabama.
6. E-Mail Invasion
After hackers gained access to both the Obama and McCain campaign systems in 2008, an even more troublesome report surfaced: Chinese hackers had also broken into the White House's e-mail archives, sources claimed, sneaking into the network numerous times. "For a short period of time, they successfully breach a wall, and then you rebuild the wall," a source told The Financial Times
. "It is constant cat and mouse."
7. Power Problem
Just weeks ago, someone breached the U.S. electrical grid and left behind malware meant to shut down power service. The cyberspies, thought to have been from China and Russia, installed "software tools" that could potentially disable parts of the grid system, unnamed sources indicated. "If we go to war with them, they will try to turn them on," one official told The Wall Street Journal
Sheesh -- kinda all makes Conficker seem like child's play, doesn't it?
Connect with JR Raphael on Twitter (@jr_raphael) or via his Web site, jrstart.com.