China: Don't blame us for U.S. satellite hacks

The government says claims that it tried to hack into U.S. satellites are the result of "ulterior motives."

Don Reisinger
CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
2 min read
An artist's rendering of the Landsat-7 satellite.
An artist's rendering of the Landsat-7 satellite. NASA

China asserts it was not behind a series of hacks against U.S. environment-monitoring satellites a few years ago.

Speaking at a news briefing today, China Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said claims that China was behind the hacks, which occurred in 2007 and 2008, are "untrue." The spokesman added, according to Reuters, which attended the briefing, that China is "also a victim of hacking attacks and will oppose any form of cybercrime, including hacking."

Last week, the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission wrote in a draft of its annual report that two American satellites, Landsat-7 and Terra AM-1, experienced interference for 12 minutes and 9 minutes, respectively, between October 2007 and October 2008.

"The responsible party achieved all steps required to command the satellite," the report reads. However, the commission said, the hackers did not take control of the satellites.

"Such interference poses numerous potential threats, particularly if achieved against satellites with more sensitive functions," according to the report. "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."

Although the report stopped short of pointing to the Chinese government, it did say that the attacks appeared to resemble those used in the past by the Chinese military.

The commission's findings are just the latest controversy it has stirred up. Last year, the commission said that the Chinese government has consistently played a role in high-profile attacks on the U.S. as part of surveillance operations.

"Recent high-profile, China-based computer exploitations continue to suggest some level of state support," the commission wrote last year. "Indicators include the massive scale of these exploitations and the extensive intelligence and reconnaissance components."

For its part, China has consistently denied claims that it's hacking into U.S. government computer systems or satellites, saying--just as it did this time--that it is instead a victim of such attacks.