NEWPORT, R.I. (WPRI) – U.S. Sen. Jack Reed said Monday he spoke to the Navy’s top officer after last week’s report that the Chinese government successfully hacked a contractor for one of the service’s most important Newport operations.
Reed, the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, described the incident as “very serious” while speaking to reporters after an event in Providence. “It involved information that in itself may not have been classified but cumulatively is very revealing of programs,” he said.
The hackers stole “massive amounts of highly sensitive data related to undersea warfare — including secret plans to develop a supersonic anti-ship missile for use on U.S. submarines by 2020,” The Washington Post reported on its front page Saturday, citing anonymous American officials.
Navy and Pentagon officials had not responded to requests for comment at midday Monday.
The New York Times later confirmed the Post story, though the Times article emphasized that it “is hardly the largest, or the most sensitive, of the designs and systems stolen by Chinese hackers over the years.”
Neither paper identified the company that suffered the hack, but both said it was working for the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) in Newport. The Post alleged that the stolen data was “housed on the contractor’s unclassified network.” The Times said the data was unclassified, but The Post said it “could be considered classified” when aggregated together.
Reed said he discussed the hack with Admiral John Richardson, the chief of naval operations, in order to “one, make sure they were thoroughly evaluating the impact of the breach; two, that they were going to hold accountable the responsible parties; and three, that they were going to ensure that will prevent any further encroachments like this if at all possible.”
Investigators blame the cyberattack on the Chinese Ministry of State Security, a government spy agency, according to The Post.
Reed acknowledged concern about military contractors’ ability to secure sensitive data.
“I think this is an issue given the cyber capabilities of many of our adversaries that’s constantly an issue of concern for every phase of the Department of Defense,” he said. “Particularly non-classified information, because they’re kept on systems that are not as rigorously protected, and it applies not just to underwater warfare but every type of platform we’re producing.”
Democratic Congressman David Cicilline, whose district includes Newport, linked the latest hacking report to previous examples of foreign governments targeting American military secrets.
“Once again, we’re seeing that our adversaries are using the field of cyberspace to weaken our national security interests,” Cicilline said in a statement. “This is just the latest example of how China, Russia, North Korea, and other bad actors have been attacking us at will. We have to stop them by stepping up investments in our cyber-capabilities and responding to these attacks in a way that deters further aggression.”
Democratic Congressman Jim Langevin, a leader on cybersecurtiy issues and a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said he was speaking with Navy officials “to determine what information was taken and how.” He added, “This is a very serious matter, and we must investigate it fully.”
Democratic U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse noted that the FBI and the Navy are investigating the incident, and said, “I look forward to being briefed on the scope of the reported hack and the steps the Navy plans to take to defend against such attacks in the future.”
“I have worked with cybersecurity experts and Senators from both parties to identify steps we can take to close gaps in our cyber-defenses and secure our networks,” Whitehouse said. “We need the president and his cabinet to make cybersecurity a priority and to work with Congress right now on solutions.”
Robert Flanders, a Republican who is challenging Whitehouse this year, said China “could not have hit closer to home” for Rhode Islanders, describing the hack as “illegal, and a grave national security threat.”
“Our president is right, we need to impose stiff sanctions on key Chinese economic industries and send a powerful message that this continued action by the Chinese government is more than intellectual property theft, but a national security threat that will be responded to in kind,” Flanders said.
Molly Donohue Magee, executive director of the Southeastern New England Defense Industry Alliance, said she couldn’t comment on the hack. “I just know what I read in the paper, so I don’t have enough insight to go into detail,” she said. She also said she could not characterize the reaction in the local defense industry.FacebookTwitterGoogle +