China hits back over US claims of satellite hacking
Landsat 7 satellite image of Washington, DC. Landsat 7 was hacked in 2007 and 2008. Photograph: Nasa/EPA
China has dismissed allegations that it may have been responsible for hacking US satellites as "not worth a comment" and accused the US commission, which made the claims, of ulterior motives.
Foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a regular news briefing in Beijing on Monday that the US-China economic and security review commission "has always viewed China through coloured lenses".
The draft of an annual report by the commission, published by Bloomberg last week, included the claim that in October 2007 and July 2008 hackers used a ground station to interfere with the operation of two US government satellites used for earth observation. The commission did not explicitly accuse the Chinese government of orchestrating the attacks, but said they were consistent with Chinese military protocol, according to Bloomberg.
Lei denied the allegations. He said: "This report is untrue and driven by ulterior motives. It is not worth a comment. China is also a victim of hacker attacks and we oppose any form of cybercrimes including hacking."
The annual report warned that hackers on four occasions used a ground station in Spitsbergen, Norway, to interfere with the US satellites Landsat 7 and Terra (EOS AM-1). The commission said it was concerned that the hackers were testing how vulnerable the satellites were to a cyber-attack.
The Landsat 7 satellite reported 12 minutes of "interference" in October 2007, and the Terra suffered two minutes in June 2008. In July 2008 the Landsat 7 reported another 12 minutes' interference. Finally in October 2008 the Terra was affected for nine minutes.
"Such interference poses numerous potential threats, particularly if achieved against satellites with more sensitive functions," the draft report said. "Access to a satellite's controls could allow an attacker to damage or destroy the satellite. An attacker could also deny or degrade as well as forge or otherwise manipulate the satellite's transmission."
The claims follow a long-standing pattern of allegations made in reports by the commission, whose purpose is to investigate the national security implications of the US's trade with China.
Iain Lobban, director of the government's listening centre, GCHQ, told the Times on Monday that UK was the target of a "disturbing" number of cyber-attacks.
The UK foreign secretary, William Hague, said in February that the foreign office had repelled an attack from "a hostile state intelligence agency", which Guardian sources at the time revealed was a reference to China.