August 25, 2005

Chinese Web Sites Used to Target U.S. Systems

WASHINGTON -- Web sites in China are being used as a staging ground for attacks on computer networks in the U.S. Defense Department and other agencies, the Washington Post reported on Thursday.

The newspaper said no classified systems have been compromised but officials were concerned that data pulled together from different agencies could become useful intelligence to an adversary.

The newspaper cited four government officials who spoke separately about the intrusions, which were said to go back two or three years. It said the FBI had launched an investigation.

"It's not just the Defense Department but a wide variety of networks that have been hit," including the departments of State, Energy, and Homeland Security as well as defense contractors, one official was quoted as saying.

"This is an ongoing, organized attempt to siphon off information from our unclassified systems." the official said.

All of the officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, the Post said.

The report said U.S. analysts were divided over whether the attacks were a coordinated effort by the Chinese government to penetrate U.S. government databanks or if it was the work of other hackers using Chinese networks to hide the origin of the intrusions.

Pentagon figures show that more attempts to scan Defense Department systems come from China than any other country, the Post said.

But a Pentagon official said that does not mean China is where the probes start.

Lt. Col. Mike VanPutte, vice director of operations for a new task force that manages the Pentagon's computer networks, told the newspaper that China is a convenient "steppingstone" for hackers because of the large number of computers there that can be compromised.