back to article Chinese media teases imminent exposé of seismic US spying scheme

China's Global Times, a state-controlled media outlet, has teased an imminent exposé of alleged US attacks on seismic data measurement stations. The outlet first raised the issue on July 26, when it reported the Wuhan Municipal Emergency Management Bureau had issued a statement revealing that some of its earthquake monitoring …

  1. steviebuk Silver badge

    Whatever China

    They love their "Whataboutisims" but ignore what they do themselves. Diverting flood water out of Beijing where Winnie the Pooh is, into near by poor villages. Sending out the emergency services to help people where the bridge collapse in the floods? No, they sent out their services to put up barriers on the bridge further down the river so people couldn't see the bridge had collapsed. Its all about face for China. Sadly, the Chinese people have to suffer having a man child in power.

    1. The BigYin

      Re: Whatever China

      > They love their "Whataboutisims" but ignore what they do themselves.

      Who, China or the USA?

      The correct answer is "Yes".

    2. Strahd Ivarius Silver badge

      Re: Whatever China

      Diverting waters to avoid the capital being flooded?

      This kind of accusation happens every time, and not only in China.

      It was already promoted in France in 2011 and 2016 for example.

    3. Youngone Silver badge

      Re: Whatever China

      Sadly, the Chinese people have to suffer having a man child in power.

      Hilariously, the United States recently had Donald Trump as president.

      1. llaryllama

        Re: Whatever China

        It's kind of different though if the people can vote him out if the majority are not happy with him, and can debate/joke about him on internet forums without being thrown in jail.

        1. Youngone Silver badge

          Re: Whatever China

          We're better than China is not great though, is it?

    4. steviebuk Silver badge

      Re: Whatever China

      We have 8 wumaos in the house.

  2. corestore

    I'm very dubious about this

    There's nothing remotely secret about seismic data, and it can't be hidden because seismic energy doesn't respect national borders; we detected and located the last NK nuclear test from NZ :-)

    Here in NZ, all our seismic data is freely available in real time - - and I would be surprised if it was any different in China; they're also part of FDSN:

    So there's no NEED to 'spy'.

    1. An_Old_Dog Silver badge
      Black Helicopters

      Re: I'm very dubious about this

      Perhaps the Chinese officials are concerned that the 'Murkans might use the data to detect and locate large-scale military deployments on Chinese soil -- truck convoys and the like. (I don't know how realistic a concern that would be ...)

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: I'm very dubious about this

        Why bother with something as blurry as seismic data when nice, sharp satellite photography is available?

        1. Graham Cobb Silver badge

          Re: I'm very dubious about this


          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: I'm very dubious about this

            That's why we use infrared, radar & THz bands.

            1. bazza Silver badge

              Re: I'm very dubious about this

              Er, infrared and THz won't go through clouds either. SAR does...

    2. thames

      Re: I'm very dubious about this

      Err, there's an explanation right in the Global Times article which El Reg references in the second paragraph of their story.

      Here's one example of how seismic data can be used for nefarious purposes:

      "By obtaining relevant data from seismic monitoring centers, hackers can deduce the underground structure and lithology of a certain area," the expert said. "For example, it can be inferred whether there is a large underground cavity, and thus whether it might be a military base or command post."

      Here's another:

      Seismic intensity data is closely related to national security, for instance, some military defense facilities need to take into account factors such as seismic intensity, experts said.

      So hypothetically you hack into a country's seismic monitoring system and wait for an earthquake. You then analyze the data to get an idea of the regional geology and how it relates to large underground command posts or aircraft shelters (whose location you find by other means) which you then use to decide how big of a nuclear bomb to use on that target. Then when you decide to start WWIII you have a slightly better idea of what to nuke and how.

      What is it you imagine that the US do when they spend many, many, billions of dollars per year on their offensive "cyber" operations? The NSA (etc.) spies don't all spend their entire day playing video games and posting on Facebook. They spend at least some of it hacking into all and sundry, as the Germans (and others) have found out to their cost as one very well known example.

      1. corestore

        Re: I'm very dubious about this

        You don't NEED to "hack into" anything to get earthquake data because the data is public! For any decent sized earthquake you will get data, and solutions, from multiple international sources, including Chinese ones. The Global Times 'explanation' is, frankly, cod. You can't "infer" an "underground cavity" of that nature from seismic data. Seismic tomography is very much a thing, but it operates on MUCH larger scales.

        And if you want to know the "regional geology" there will be a bazillion papers published on that subject.

        Note I'm not saying the story isn't true; I don't know; I'm just saying it *seems* unnecessary. And I'm not saying spying doesn't occur; it undoubtedly does.

        1. Catkin

          Re: I'm very dubious about this

          Considering the Chinese government uses a navigation datum that has deliberate errors introduced into it (and also hold a state monopoly on cartography in China), I wouldn't be surprised if their sometimes bizzare paranoia is also expressed in the form of seismic data tampering.

          1. Catkin

            Re: I'm very dubious about this

            It's too late to edit but the system, for those unaware is GCJ-02. There's a predicable (if you have the key) but variable deviation from reality, resulting in ever changing offsets of some tens of metres; which seems oddly poetic.

          2. phuzz Silver badge

            Re: I'm very dubious about this

            GPS has a similar system, but access to the high precision signals was opened to the public in 2000. That access could be removed though, if the US government wanted to. Galileo also has a high-precision signal that is limited to governments.

            1. Catkin

              Re: I'm very dubious about this

              This is distinct from what you refer to, Selective Availability. In SA, the location given out by the satellite wobbles about a bit but that wobble is known to certain agencies so can be corrected for (it varies continuously), GCJ-02 has built in errors, so the deviation is consistent in space but static over time.

              In my view, this is fundamentally silly because it poisons your mapping data: if a satellite photo is used to derive a map from a consistent datum, versus deriving it from mapping on the ground, there is a mismatch which can only be corrected through total data review. On the other hand, SA only causes a random variation in that specific source and citizens still use a consistent datum (which, unlike the Chinese system, they don't have to pay a mandatory license for, which is doubly perverse, as is penalising those who don't use deliberately broken datum).

              On the SA front, while it was merely disabled in older satellites, the current generation don't feature it at all so, barring a design change on new satellites, it's on its way out forever.

              In short, the US reduced the accuracy of their location system, the Chinese make it illegal to record geographically accurate data.

              1. david 12 Silver badge

                Re: I'm very dubious about this

                On the SA front, while it was merely disabled in older satellites,

                I had a vague idea that the newer system was also fundamentally more accurate, and also that it featured a newer more-more accurate special-purpose system?

                Information welcome, one way or the other.

                1. Catkin

                  Re: I'm very dubious about this

                  I don't know about accuracy but I understand the military special sauce (not Tabasco) in the new block more relates to jamming and spoofing resilience. I should add that Selective Availability specifically refers to the above mentioned system, I believe they still maintain the capability to selectively limit availability for us civilians, effectively turning that off.

                  However, there is a huge reliance on GPS for precise timing in addition to navigation, meaning a lot of systems go wrong when GPS is turned off. Personally, I believe that this would make the US think at least twice before turning it off over any significant area but your opinion of their military may vary.

                2. Grinning Bandicoot

                  Re: I'm very dubious about this

                  I know that at present I have a portable non-certified device that gives under a meter repeatable locations and the cost was under $1000. See Sparcfun for costs and boards and where to get it elsewhere.

                  The original thought in SA was not to make it easy for a foe to use the system as a cheap precision bombing system. If faulty memory serves after the shoot down of KAL 007 the easing of SA was begun but the caveat about its return still floats. CalTech/JPL have a seismic event site that covers Taxifornia and Nevada very well and using the information given here I was not able to locate Mitchell's nor California Caverns.

        2. phuzz Silver badge

          Re: I'm very dubious about this

          Yes you can get information about large earthquakes from anywhere, but only sensors in China are likely to pick up, eg, a weapons test there. Having access to local sensors gives much better resolution and sensitivity.

          It's like the difference between spying on a building with a surveillance satellite vs someone with a camera in a building across the street.

          1. corestore

            Re: I'm very dubious about this

            Not so.

            I SAID we located the last NK nuke test from NZ, using predominantly NZ data; such a big bang is very well detectable around the world, or at least the hemisphere it occurs in.

            A nuke weapons test cannot be hidden. There are systems designed to detect any such thing, and they are proven to work and work well, under CTBTO auspices.

    3. Justthefacts Silver badge

      Re: I'm very dubious about this

      Not an expert, but a few things occur: distance makes a big difference to attenuation, particularly frequency-dependent. I doubt that you would have had the sensitivity to pick up the rumble of a military convoy from NZ. Second, FDSN: maybe most seismic data stations are on the free network but any seismic station near a military installation will almost certainly be considered national security.

      Thirdly, it’s true that the US probably doesn’t need Chinese stations to detect a nuke test, as it has its own resources. However given a denser more sensitive network, there’s probably many other things of interest that a smart analyst can figure out. More data is always good. This isn’t my area of expertise, satellites are. On two separate occasions in my career, I have been shocked at what was released into the public domain, quite literally in press release puff-pieces from Airbus and Thales, about national military satellites. To the non-technical, these will have seemed benign with almost zero information, and I’m sure the info had all been vetted as “non-classified”. But if you understood the technical domain, and looked at it sideways, you could calculate the parameter of a really key capability from the info given, which absolutely was highly classified.

  3. jake Silver badge

    ... and things that go bump in the night.

    Must be awful to be as paranoid as a dictatorship must be to remain in power.

    Lighten up, Winnie baby! Do ya a world of good.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: ... and things that go bump in the night.

      Must be awful to be as paranoid as the US likes to paint itself

      Lighten up, Free Citizens, Do ya a world of good

  4. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge



    a) Seismographic equipment doesn't seem like a very high profile target. As corestore (above) points out, this data is generally openly available anyway. Which isn't to say it wasn't hacked but again it just doesn't seem like a particularly juicy target.

    b) As thames points out (above), well, take a look at even the NSA's public tools (no kidding they have a github). Ghidra is a really great, free and open source disassembler (which besides showing you assembly language, will make a fair attempt at turning it into C code so, if the program was written in C at least, you'll get something back at least vaguely resembling the source code that may have gone into the program to begin with.) They don't write these programs to NOT use them, I'm quite sure they're hacking plenty of things.

    c) Not that I'm happy about China's behaviors, but do keep in mind the five eyes (US, Canada, Britian, Australia, and New Zealand) run what is probably the largest surveillance network on the planet. I've found the rhetoric of the last couple years to be hypocritical to say the least. Keep in perspective when you hear "I can't believe China is doing xyz" (in regards to data collection or surveillance) if the five eyes aren't doing the same.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Eh, idk infrastructure collapsing epic floods in Beijing housing market collapsing China is not having a good time right now.

  6. Paul Crawford Silver badge

    In other news the Pot and the Kettle are arguing over relative albedo levels.

  7. breakfast Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    Revelations that could rock American surveillance networks

    If this turns out to be genuine it sounds like America could be on shaky ground.

    1. Blazde Silver badge

      Re: Revelations that could rock American surveillance networks

      The damage will depend on who's fault it is

      1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

        Re: Revelations that could rock American surveillance networks

        Oh dear, not making my laughter register on the Richter scale!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Revelations that could rock American surveillance networks

      The news is making waves{1} in the media{2}

      {1} P, S to follow at 10pm bulletin

      {2} Lithosphere to liquid core

    3. that one in the corner Silver badge

      Re: Revelations that could rock American surveillance networks

      Can't see geophones being sensitive enough - I react with shear disbelief.

    4. david 12 Silver badge

      Re: Revelations that could rock American surveillance networks

      Enemy Territory: Quake Wars

      1. breakfast Silver badge

        Re: Revelations that could rock American surveillance networks

        Alright, this one really got me.

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