BEIJING, Nov. 12 (UPI) -- The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the agency that operates the National Weather Service, providing critical forecast data to countless military, civilian, and commercial operations, was hacked by the Chinese.
The NOAA operates satellites, both geostationary and polar-orbiting, responsible for real-time tracking of national and global weather systems, satellites that "provide critical data for forecasts and warnings that are vital to every citizen and to our economy as a whole," according to NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan.
Data from the National Weather Service are not only critical to commercial enterprise -- the armed forces rely on them as well.
The cyberattack occurred in late September but the agency failed to report the incident until Oct. 20, saying publicly its network was undergoing "unscheduled maintenance" to cover the interruption to some services.
The agency declined to discuss whether classified data was compromised, but NOAA spokesman Scott Smullen acknowledged the breach of security and said "incident response began immediately."
In light of an ongoing investigation, Smullen declined further inquiries into the source of the attack. The Washington Post reported that Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Virginia, a congressman with a background in cyber-security, confirmed the Chinese were behind the hack.
"NOAA told me it was a hack and it was China," Wolf said, chiding the NOAA for not publicly announcing the breach "and deliberately misleading the American public in its replies."
"They had an obligation to tell the truth," the congressman said. "They covered it up."
According to Mashable, the NOAA has faced delays in upgrading its computing capacity because the agency's long-term agreement for super-computing services with IBM has come under review by the Treasury Department after that branch of the American IT giant was recently acquired by Chinese firm Lenovo, causing Congress concern over the national security implications of allowing the contract to continue.
News of the cyber-attack on the NOAA follows a recent breach of unclassified networks at the White House by Russian hackers and comes just days after the United States Postal Service announced it too had been hacked by the Chinese, an attack that compromised the personal information of some 800,000 employees.
The attacks also come on the heels of President Obama's recent meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping during which he "stressed the importance of protecting intellectual property as well as trade secrets, especially against cyber-threats."