Chinese hackers breach U.S. weather system

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Chinese hackers breached NOAA systems, from which National Weather Service forecasts receive their data, in September. Image by National Weather Service

Chinese hackers breached NOAA systems, from which National Weather Service forecasts receive their data, in September. Image by National Weather Service

A recent breach by Chinese hackers gave the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration a reason to feel under the weather.

The Washington Post reported Wednesday that hackers in China breached the United States’ weather network in late September through a web server that connects to many computers within NOAA. The breach in turn forced the sealing of “data vital to disaster planning, aviation, shipping and scores of other crucial uses” by cybersecurity teams — resulting in direct impacts on the accuracy of long-range forecasts by the National Weather Service as well as loss of information for companies, businesses and other around the world that rely on the weather data.

Officials claim, however, that the NOAA did not immediately report their systems were breached; an action that Commerce Department Inspector General Todd Zinser told the Post violates a policy that security incidents be reported to law enforcement within two days. Instead, the agency said publicly that they were performing “unscheduled maintenance.”

NOAA spokesman Scott Smullen confirmed four sites were hacked in a statement Wednesday, but claimed the agency’s response to the attack was immediate, all systems were working and that forecasts delivered at the time were accurate.

A cybersecurity consultant speaking to the Post believes the hack was aimed at finding an exploitable opening in a U.S. system. “The bad guys are increasingly having a hard time getting in the front of these agencies,” said consultant Jacob Olcott. “So they figure if I can’t get in the front door, I’d ride along in with someone who has trusted access and maybe ride that connection to bigger agencies.”

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