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Pentagon Denies F-35 Security Breach Report

April 22, 2009

The Pentagon and Lockheed Martin Corp, its top supplier, both denied a recent Wall Street Journal report that hackers had stolen information about the Pentagon’s $300 billion F-35 Joint Strike Fighter project, Reuters reported.

Current and former government officials well informed with the issue were cited as the Journal’s sources.

The sources were quoted as saying that spies copied and drained off information connected to the plane’s defensive electronics system, yet they were blocked from the most vital information, which is stored on computers not connected to the Internet, the Journal reported.

However, Bryan Whitman, a Defense Department spokesman, said they were not aware of any specific concerns involving a compromise of the Pentagon’s costliest arms acquisition plan.

The Journal reported that “terabytes” of data about the plane’s design and electronics had been taken and that the trespassers penetrated the system through the networks of some of the contractors employed in the construction of the fighter jet.

“We actually believe the Wall Street Journal was incorrect in its representation of successful cyber attacks on the F-35 program,” said Lockheed Martin, the primary contractor.

Bruce Tanner, the company’s chief financial officer, said during a teleconference on the company’s latest earnings that he had not heard of any cyber compromises and to their knowledge there had never been any classified information breach.

“We do have stringent measures in place to both detect and stop these attacks,” he said.

But the Wall Street Journal said it is continuing to stand behind the story, noting that although Pentagon officials originally refused to comment specifically on the allegations, the Air Force had commenced an inquiry and investigation into the matter.

The Defense Department said it did not comment on alleged or actual cyber infiltrations, potential impacts to DoD operations, or any possible investigations.

Lieutenant Colonel Eric Butterbaugh of the Air Force, a department spokesman, said they do not want to deny information on a potential success or failure that might help an attacker.

The construction of the multi-role F-35 is a roughly $300 billion program currently in the early stages of production. The United States Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps plan to buy 2,443 of three F-35 designs.

The radar-evading aircraft is being developed with financing from the United States, Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Canada, Australia, Denmark and Norway.

A report last month from a task force formed by the Defense Department board concluded that “threats from cyber-intelligent adversaries represent a clear and present danger to U.S. national security” in the absence of tightened cyber security initiatives.

Image Caption: The X-35, Joint Strike Fighter from Lockheed Martin nears completion of flight testing at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., in 2001. The JSF is being built in three variants: a conventional take-off and landing aircraft (CTOL) for the US Air Force; a carrier based variant (CV) for the US Navy; and a short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) aircraft for the US Marine Corps and the Royal Navy. (US Air Force)

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