NASA Systems At Risk From Hacking Attacks

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It’s not surprising really, when I learned that the recently retired NASA space shuttle was still using 5.25″ floppy drives – I suspected that much of the NASA IT architecture was probably antiquated.

Also the recent SCADA related security scare, indicated the industrial and large-scale systems probably aren’t the most secure around.

Combine those two lines of reasoning together and you get a fairly solid conclusion that NASA networks (especially those controlling old equipment like shuttles) are probably horribly insecure.

An official audit of NASA’s network has concluded that the space agency faces a high risk of cyberattack.

Experts from the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) paint a grim picture of the state of the space agency’s server infrastructure, warning that vulnerabilities in its systems leave it open to defacement, denial of service or information-stealing attacks.

In particular, six unnamed IT systems were found to be at risk to attacks that might allow hackers to seize remote control of critical systems over the net – which included systems that control spacecraft – as a result of unpatched software vulnerabilities. The OIG’s report (24-page PDF/703 KB, extract of conclusions below) also warns that sensitive account information is poorly protected and wide open to extraction for any attackers who make it past NASA’s perimeter defences.

Add that to the fact that back in 2008 The International Space Station Was Infected by a Virus and you should be fairly wary of NASA security.

OIG recently provided this with a recent security audit of the the server infrastructure and networks at NASA, the findings were not pretty. The full report is available for download here:

IG-11-017.pdf

Obviously NASA claims all the vulnerabilities found during the OIG audit have been fixed, but what about all the rest that haven’t been found yet? I sincerely hope they start implementing a more holistic approach to security rather than just reactive patching.


We found that computer servers on NASA’s Agency-wide mission network had high-risk vulnerabilities that were exploitable from the internet. Specifically, six computer servers associated with IT assets that control spacecraft and contain critical data had vulnerabilities that would allow a remote attacker to take control of or render them unavailable.

Moreover, once inside the Agency-wide mission network, the attacker could use the compromised computers to exploit other weaknesses we identified, a situation that could severely degrade or cripple NASA’s operations. We also found network servers that revealed encryption keys, encrypted passwords, and user account information to potential attackers. These data are sensitive and provide attackers additional ways to gain unauthorized access to NASA networks.

It is quite worrying as NASA has been a fairly frequent victim of cyber-crime and attacks, especially when it comes to stealing data. Remember the whole Gary McKinnon case is because he hacked NASA.

It was also suggested by an OIG audit in May 2010 that they implement an agency wide computer security program, it seems that hasn’t been done. Hopefully with this hitting the mainstream media this time around, something wil lget fixed.

Source: The Register

Posted in: Exploits/Vulnerabilities, Legal Issues, Privacy


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