U.S. government and military Internet traffic was briefly redirected through computer servers in China earlier this year, according to a report that is to be released by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission on Wednesday.
The report says telecommunications companies in China disrupted the Internet for only about 18 minutes -- but they were a big 18 minutes. They "hijacked" about 15 percent of the world's online traffic, affecting NASA, the U.S. Senate, the four branches of the military and the office of the Secretary of Defense.
A draft copy of the report, obtained by ABC News, said, "For about 18 minutes on April 8, 2010, China Telecom advertised erroneous network traffic routes that instructed U.S. and other foreign Internet traffic to travel through Chinese servers."
While the Internet "hijacking" incident was initially reported on in April, it had not been previously disclosed that the U.S. government was affected by the incident. "This incident affected traffic to and from U.S. government (''.gov'') and military (''.mil'') sites, including those for the Senate, the army, the navy, the marine corps, the air force, the office of secretary of Defense, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Department of Commerce, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and many others. Certain commercial websites were also affected, such as those for Dell, Yahoo!, Microsoft, and IBM."
Officials at the State Department and Department of Homeland Security declined to comment on the report.
The Commission report does not discuss why the telecommunications firms rerouted the Internet traffic but it does mention the possible security risks.
"Although the Commission has no way to determine what, if anything, Chinese telecommunications firms did to the hijacked data, incidents of this nature could have a number of serious implications. This level of access could enable surveillance of specific users or sites. It could disrupt a data transaction and prevent a user from establishing a connection with a site. It could even allow a diversion of data to somewhere that the user did not intend."
U.S. officials say Russia and China have aggressively been mapping and probing American computer systems and infrastructure for years. Entities in China were behind a highly sophisticated hack of Google and over 30 other companies that occurred late last year that was not detected until January. The hacking of Google's network was targeted to gain access to the e-mail accounts of human rights activists in China.
The Google cyber attack was originally disclosed by the company as tension rose between it and China over censorship of Google's search engine.
Following the Google incident, which computer sececurity experts dubbed the "Aurora" attack, Dennis Blair, then the Director of National Intelligence, said in testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, "[The] intrusions reported by Google are a stark reminder of the importance of these cyber assets, and a wake-up call to those who have not taken this problem seriously."