- SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A shadowy group of computer hackers has apparently
successfully broken into a U.S. computer system that controls military
satellites, officials and security experts said Tuesday. The group, calling
itself MOD or Masters of Downloading, has proof of its electronic snooping
-- secret files allegedly pirated from the Defense Information Systems
Network (DISN), computer security expert John Vranesevich said. Lt. Col.
Tom Begines, a Defense Department spokesman, said military officials were
``aware of the intrusion and looking into the matter.'' Vranesevich, who
runs the computer security website AntiOnline (www.antionline.com), said
members of MOD contacted him last week to brag about their alleged ``exploit,''
which if as wide-ranging as they claim, could mark one of the most serious
breaches of U.S. defense systems ever. He posted the text of two interviews
with MOD members on his website Tuesday, as well as schematics of the software
the group allegedly took from the defense agency. The group of about 15,
which includes Americans, Britons and Russians, said it accessed the Defense
Information Systems Agency in October and stole key operating software
they say controls everything from military communications networks to GPS
satellites and receivers.
- ``I think international terrorist groups
would be interested in the data we could gain access to,'' one MOD member
told Vranesevich in an online interview. ``Governments would buy it for
intelligence purposes.'' Vranesevich has tracked the underground world
of computer hackers for five years and helped uncover the teen-age whizkids
responsible for assaults on the Pentagon in February. In interviews with
other on-line outlets such as WIRED and ZDNET, Vranesevich said he was
``very, very confident'' that the hackers' claims were genuine. MOD members
said the stolen software, known as the Defense Information Systems Network
Equipment Manager (DEM), was the key to the U.S. network of military Global
Positioning System (GPS) satellites -- used to pinpoint missile strikes,
guide troops and assess ground conditions.
- The GPS system, controlled by Air Force
specialists based in Colorado, covers dozens of satellites and is seen
as an important U.S. beachhead in the new realm of space warfare. ``It's
very dangerous in the wrong hands,'' one MOD member said in the on-line
interview, adding that they could easily disable the system. ``It's always
nice to have power over a network as big and valuable as the DISN,'' the
hacker wrote. ``But at this point in time, we'd just like this to be a
reminder to the Department of Defense that we can down their entire network
from a remote location, i.e. anywhere on the earth's surface.''
- The Defense Department's Begines said
that the DEM operating software ``is an unclassified network management
application.'' ``It does not contain classified information,'' he added.
However, the intrusion into the Defense Information Systems Agency marked
a dangerous new level of ``information warfare'' that hackers are waging
against the U.S. government. Begines described the agency as a ``combat
support agency'' for the Pentagon and the DISN as the ``telecommunications
backbone'' for the U.S. military. Officials have been on heightened alert
to the dangers of hacking following a string of cyber-assaults on U.S.
military computers in February one official dubbed ``the most organized
and systematic attack the Pentagon has seen to date.'' The attacks were
eventually traced to two California teen-agers and their on-line teacher,
an 18-year-old Israeli master-hacker who called himself ``Analyzer.''
- Vranesevich told WIRED that the MOD seemed
to be represent an even more accomplished level of hacking. ``(The deliberate
theft of classified software) puts this group on a whole other playing
field,'' he said. An MOD member put it more simply: ``We're not your normal