WASHINGTON, D.C. – A message that North Korea had conducted a nuclear attack on the Japanese island of Okinawa turned out to be false, but the fact it was delivered via U.S. military communications has prompted a high alert, according to U.S. officials who asked to remain anonymous.
U.S. military channels were hacked either by the Chinese or North Koreans, the source said.
Access to such communications – even unclassified military systems – suggests a serious breach of technology security.
A Pentagon spokesman declined comment.
A purportedly “U/FOUO” or “Unclassified but For Official Use Only” message claimed to have been put out Saturday by the Office of National Intelligence and prepared by the Defense Intelligence Agency. It said:
“Today, March 06, 2010 at 11.46 AM local time (UTC/GMT -5 hours),US seismographic stations recorded seismic activity in the area of Okinawa Island (Japan). According to (sic) National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has carried out an average range missile attack with use of nuclear warhead (sic). The explosion caused severe destructions (sic) in the northern part of the (sic) Okinawa island. Casualties among the personnel of the US military base are being estimated at the moment.”
An analyst noted the grammatical errors suggested the text was written by someone who has not yet mastered the English language use of articles.
The report included a long list of U.S. agencies that should be on alert, from the Central Intelligence Agency, the Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security to the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps and Navy.
U.S. officials have expressed growing concern over cyber attacks, especially from China. The attacks have targeted not only Google and other Western companies but also the Pentagon.
Chip Gregson, assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific affairs, said that in addition to their nuclear and space programs, the Chinese have undertaken an aggressive cyber assault that presents “an asymmetrical threat to our ways of doing business.”
The latest hacking effort follows urgent warnings that also have gone out through the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to protect all classified databases due to the recent surge of Chinese cyber attacks.
Last Friday, a U.S. report said that the number of cyber attacks on U.S. government agencies and Congress rose exponentially in the past year to an estimated 1.6 billon a month.
Only a few months ago, there were reports that a powerful cyber attack overwhelmed computers at U.S. government agencies and South Korean agencies for several days. The report said the attacks also targeted the White House, Pentagon and the New York Stock Exchange.