Chinese hackers have been hammering the US Navy, and admirals are in the crosshairs

US Navy Carrier FormationATLANTIC OCEAN (Sept. 23, 2014 ) The aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) leads a formation of ships from Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 12 during a maneuvering exercise. Theodore Roosevelt participated in the exercise with the Peruvian submarine BAP Islay (SS 35), the guided-missile destroyers USS Winston Churchill (DDG 81), USS Forrest Sherman (DDG 98), USS Farragut (DDG 99) and the guided-missile cruiser USS Normandy (CG 60). Theodore Roosevelt is underway preparing for future deployments.Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Katie Lash/US Navy

  • The US Navy is no longer publicizing promotions of admirals, a policy that promotes reduced transparency in the service.
  • Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson argued Wednesday that one of the reasons the service is doing this is to protect flag officers from cyberattacks.
  • The US Navy is "under cyber siege," an internal cybersecurity review recently concluded.
  • A significant amount of information about top Navy officers can still be found online, undermining Richardson's rationale of the service's new policy.

A top US admiral explained Wednesday that the Navy is keeping high-level promotions a secret because hackers from China and other adversarial countries are targeting flag officers.

While the Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps all continue to publish lists of newly promoted officers, the Navy abruptly stopped in October, USNI News first reported last month.

The policy reportedly began with the promotion of Trump's doctor, Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, who withdrew from consideration to lead Department of Veterans Affairs amid a scandal.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson defended the policy decision Wednesday, arguing that publishing this information - which the US Senate continues to publish - leaves high-ranking Navy officers vulnerable to cyberattacks.

"I don't know if you've been personally attacked in the cyber world, but our flags are," Richardson said at a conference in Washington, DC, Breaking Defense reported. It is "just a vulnerability that we are trying to think about," he added, according to Military.com.

"There's always a tension between on the transparency and security," he explained, telling reporters that the Navy intends to do anything it can "to make sure we're keeping their information and stuff secure."

An alarming internal Navy cybersecurity review recently concluded that the service, as well as its industry partners, are "under cyber siege," The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.

Read More: The US Navy and its partners are 'under cyber siege' from Chinese hackers and are hemorrhaging national security secrets

"We are under siege," a senior US Navy official stressed to The Journal. "People think it's much like a deadly virus - if we don't do anything, we could die."

The service has been hit relentlessly by Chinese, Russian, and Iranian hackers, with the threat presented by Chinese cyber criminals among the most severe. China is accused of hacking the US military, large and small defense contractors, and even university partners to steal anything not nailed down.

Last year, Chinese government hackers stole important data on several US Navy undersea-warfare programs from an unidentified contractor. Among the stolen information were plans for a new supersonic anti-ship missile, The Washington Post reported in June, citing US officials.

Speaking to Congress Wednesday, Army Gen. Paul Nakasone, head of US Cyber Command, said that the US is prepared to aggressively strike back against adversarial powers in cyberspace.

Read More: The US is ready to use more aggressive cyber operations to strike back at enemies

While Navy leadership argues that the decision to keep flag officer promotions a secret is to eliminate exposure that could put its admirals at risk, the defense appears a bit thin, as their names, ranks and biographies are still publicly available.

"This may not work out in the end, I don't know, but that's kind of our mindset there," Richardson reportedly said Wednesday.

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