Spies breaks into US fighter jet project

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Spies have broken into the Pentagon’s US$3 billion Joint Strike Fighter project – one of the costliest weapons spent by the Defence Department in the United States – according to the Wall Street Journal, quoting current and former government officials who are familiar with the attacks.

The intruders were able to copy and paste several terabytes of data that was related to the design and the electronics system of the new fighter jet, the F-35 Lightning II. According to the newspaper, the attacks have since escalated in the past six months. “There’s never been anything like it,” an unnamed person said to the reporter.

The unnamed person also added that other agencies, both military and civilian, and private companies were also targeted.

Though spies managed to take amounts of data about the project, the most sensitive information and plans about the fighter jet were not able to be siphoned off, as they are stored on computers which are not connected to the internet.

The intruders are said to have accessed the network via vulnerabilities in the networks of several contractors who are building the network. It is known that Lockheed Martin leads the program on building the fighter plane, while Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems play vital roles.

China has been quoted by the newspaper as the origin of the attacks, but it can be easily be a false reading, as the true origin can not be determined as masking your IP address is easy.

However, this was not the only one – the US government is known to be prone to cybersecurity attacks. According to the Department of Homeland Security, at least 3,672 reported cases involved improper usage of a computer, 3,214 computers were accessed without proper authorisation, another 2,274 were reported to have malicious code and 1,272 computers had scans, probes or were attempted to be accessed without authorisation from the user. However, 7,528 reported cases are now under investigation.

Australia, according to Wikipedia, is a "Level 3” partner in the Joint Strike Fighter project and have chipped in US$144 million, and is currently reported to have ordered 75 of these planes, but no financial decision has been made yet. The United Kingdom, however, is the only “Level 1” partner, offering US$2.5 billion in developing the fighter jet.

Image from: the US Air Force