According to a previously classified section of the report prepared for the Defense Department by the advisory Defense Science Board (DSB), Chinese hackers have gained access to "more than two dozen" designs of the most advanced US weapon systems.
The Washington Post notes that while the report did not say the Chinese stole the designs or whether the breaches occurred on contractor or government networks, it said the designs of "more than two dozen systems" were compromised.
ABC News reports that a US official, however, said Chinese hackers obtained the information by accessing the networks of private defense contractors. A military official told The Washington Post: "In many cases, they don't know they've been hacked until the FBI comes knocking on their door. This is billions of dollars of combat advantage for China. They've just saved themselves 25 years of research and development."
The official admitted that the extent of the breach was uncertain.
According to The Washington Post, a copy of the report it obtained included a previously classified portion made public for the first time on Tuesday. It lists more than two dozen advanced weapon system designs that it alleges have been compromised by Chinese hackers. The list includes advanced fighter planes such as the stealth F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft program, the F/A-18 fighter jet, the V-22 Osprey, the Global Hawk long-range surveillance drone, the Navy's Littoral Combat Ship and Black Hawk helicopters. The list also includes missile defense systems, including the Patriot missile system (PAC-3) and the Navy's Aegis ballistic missile defense system.
Other related information reportedly accessed include various related technologies such as nanotechnology, directed energy, space surveillance telescopes, tactical data links and drone video systems.
According to USA Today, the public version of the report, titled, "Resilient Military Systems and the Advanced Cyber Threat" (PDF), released in January, had issued a warning that the US was not prepared to defend itself against a full-scale cyber war. It described the cyber threat to the US as "serious," and compared it to the "nuclear threat of the Cold War." The report also expressed concern that the security breaches could allow China speed up development of its military systems and compromise US technology edge.
The report said: "[The Defense Department] is not prepared to defend against this threat. With present capabilities and technology it is not possible to defend with confidence against the most sophisticated cyber attacks."
The reports continued: "... the threat is serious and... the United States cannot be confident that our critical Information Technology (IT) systems will work under attack from a sophisticated and well-resourced opponent utilizing cyber capabilities in combination with all their military and intelligence capabilities... This conclusion was developed upon several factors, including the success adversaries have had penetrating our networks..."
Reuters reports that earlier this month, the Pentagon emphasized its concerns about the alleged breaches in its annual report to Congress. It accused China of using cyber espionage in its effort to speed up modernization of its military and alleged that US government agencies and contractor networks were being specifically targeted by hackers directly linked to "Chinese government and military." The report accused the Chinese of a cyber campaign to gain information about the US government's military plans and policies.
Yet another recent report had traced an "overwhelming percentage" of cyber attacks directed at US agencies and defense corporation to an organization in an office building on the outskirts of Shanghai, linked to the Chinese People's Liberation Army.
The Obama administration had also warned China that its cyber espionage activities could compromise efforts to build ties between both countries.
The DSB report comes soon after the White House National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, in a meeting with senior Chinese military officials at the Chinese Defense Ministry, called for a "new model for relations" that will ensure "a healthy, stable and reliable military-to-military relationship." He asked China to end its cyber espionage activities.
The White House has said reportedly, that President Obama will raise the issue with the Chinese leader Xi Jinping when they meet in California in June. Reuters reports that White House spokesman Jay Carney, told reporters: "Cyber security is a key priority of this administration. It is a key concern that we have. It is an issue that we raise at every level in our meetings with our Chinese counterparts, and I'm sure it will be a topic of discussion when the president meets with President Xi in California in early June."
According to ABC News, after Tuesday's report by the The Washington Post, Pentagon spokesperson George Little, attempted to downplay the the extent of the alleged breach by suggesting that the DSB report was not only outdated but that it also exaggerated the problem. Little said that "Suggestions that cyber intrusions have somehow led to the erosion of our capabilities or technological edge are incorrect."
Little said the US government has implemented measures to further improve cyber security and strengthen its cyber capabilities. Reuters reports Little said: "Despite significant gains to better posture the department against cyber threats, the DSB report outlines several areas of concern that we will address promptly to ensure the viability of our cyber capabilities and defenses. The findings of the DSB report make it clear that much work remains as we establish the right balance of integrated cyber defenses, capabilities and forces."
Meanwhile, China has reacted to claims contained in the Pentagon report to Congress earlier this month, dismissing and describing them as groundless, and saying that the Chinese government was not involved in cyber espionage on US agencies and contractors.
The latest revelation comes as the Australian ABC Television reports Chinese cyber spies stole the blueprints for the country's new $630 million headquarters for the Australian Security Intelligence Organization, which included details about the building layout, communications cabling, server locations and security systems. The blueprints were obtained from the computers of a construction contractor.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesmen Hong Lei, has denied the report, saying: "China pays high attention to the cyber security issue and is firmly opposed to all forms of hacker attacks. Since it is very difficult to find out the origin of hacker attacks, it is very difficult to find out who carried out such attacks. I don't know what the evidence is for media to make such kinds of reports."