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NASA Computers Hacked By Intruders

By Staff Writer | December 1, 2008

      Hackers in recent years have invaded computers at NASA and other agencies, swiping millions of pages of data, some of it sensitive, according to a news report.

      Cyber break-ins struck computers at Kennedy Space Center in Florida in April 2005, where space shuttles are launched, Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland where many satellites and spacecraft are controlled, and at Johnson Space Center in Texas, home to Mission Control for the International Space Station and space shuttle missions, the report in the Nov. 20 Business Week issue noted.

      A computer was hacked in the Kennedy Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), where before each mission the shuttle involved is mated to its external fuel tank and solid rocket boosters.

      Purloined electronic data and documents went to computers in Taiwan, which China often uses as a hub to forward material into mainland Chinese computers.

      Some hackers have ties to the Chinese and Russian governments.

      While the report termed NASA computers "highly vulnerable," NASA argues that isn’t so.

      NASA Deputy Administrator Shana Dale said the space agency has poured ample funds into cyber security.

      "NASA recognizes the continuing and ever-increasing cyber security challenges associated with the complex technical infrastructure required to accomplish the agency’s mission," Dale said.

      "NASA has devoted significant resources to improve the agency’s information technology security posture, and will continue to do so. NASA aggressively works to protect its information assets with measures that include installing new technology, increasing investigative resources, heightening employee awareness and working with other federal agencies. NASA’s goal is to ensure the security of its computer systems now and in the future."

      She declined to discuss just what security measures are in place on NASA computers, saying that could jeopardize information technology security and in some areas violate federal law.

      The VAB hacking incident involved a computer network managed by a joint venture of The Boeing Co. [BA] and Lockheed Martin Corp. [LMT]. When the companies discovered the break-in, it was too late to act because the data theft already had occurred.

      A problem, according to the report, is that throughout NASA, many of its computers have to be accessible to subcontractors and outside researchers. Stolen information included details on satellites, rocket engines, launch systems and the shuttle.

      On another occasion, an American-German deep-space-peering satellite, ROSAT, was hacked and turned toward the sun to make it useless, when hackers invaded a Goddard computer. Meanwhile, the hacker took data from ROSAT and sent it to Moscow, where it may have landed in a Russian intel agency, according to the report.