Hackers Claim Top US
Defense System Cracked

By Andrew Quinn
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 (, 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 hacker kids.''

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