China-based attackers are back in the news again, this time for breaching the federal weather network, officials told the Washington Post.
The initial intrusion appears to have occurred late September, but officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) did not take steps or notify proper authorities until October, the Post reported.
NOAA declined to say its systems had been compromised or discuss the nature of the intrusion. It publicly stated it was undergoing “unscheduled maintenance” in October without saying why.
“Incident response began immediately,” NOAA spokesman Scott Smullen told the Post.
NOAA, which includes the National Weather Service, operates satellites, which capture most of the data used to generate weather models, advisories, and warnings. Four sites were affected, but all systems are now functional.
It’s not known whether the breach involved classified material or if the attackers accessed any information. It’s also not known if any malware was injected into its systems, which also connect to civilian networks to share NOAA satellite data and imagery.
“NOAA told me it was a hack and it was China,” U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) told the Post. Wolf accused the NOAA of covering up the incident “and deliberately misleading the American public in its replies.”
This breach comes shortly on the heels of the United States Postal Service admitting a breach, which compromised data of 800,000 employees. Another attack—suspected to be from Russia—breached unclassified White House computer networks.
Many of these attacks are targeting weaknesses in application software, says Jeff Williams, CTO of Contrast Security. “Application security is considerably worse in government systems than in the financial sector,” he says.
There have been warnings about issues in NOAA’s security, the latest being a July report by the Inspector General for the Commerce Department. The report found “high-risk vulnerabilities” in the security of NOAA’s satellite information and weather service systems.

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