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Report: Even NASA affected by network security issues

By Max Burkhalter
March 28, 2011
As companies, organizations and government agencies rely increasingly on fixed and wireless networks to perform critical tasks, network security is becoming an area of concern for many IT professionals.

Companies of all sizes are affected by the security of their networks, which can impact data safety, confidentiality and system reliability. According to a recent AFP report, even space agency NASA faces the need to deal with network security challenges.

Paul Martin, inspector general for NASA, told AFP some computer servers used to control the agency's spacecraft have network security vulnerabilities that may leave systems open to cyber attacks over the internet.

"We found that computer servers on NASA's agency-wide mission network had high-risk vulnerabilities that were exploitable from the internet," Martin said. "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 [them] or render them unavailable," he added.

A cyber criminal taking advantage of such vulnerabilities could do extensive damage to NASA's operations, the report said.In addition to incurring financial costs, such an attack could endanger the lives of the agency's employees.

While NASA's operations are particularly sensitive, they also belong to an agency known for its state-of-the-art technology and considerable resources. If NASA needs to focus more attention on network security, smaller organizations may also need to do so.

Martin told AFP NASA needs to address the network security deficiencies as quickly as possible. If it fails to do so, the agency will remain "vulnerable to computer incidents that could have a severe to catastrophic effect on agency assets, operations and personnel," he said.

According to the report, NASA's networks have been hacked in the past. In 2009, cyber criminals succeeded in infecting a computer system connected to one of the agency's mission networks.

The infection caused NASA's computer system to make unauthorized connections to IP addresses in a number of countries, including China, Holland, Saudi Arabia and Estonia. According to Martin, more than 3,000 unauthorized connections were made in total.

NASA has long been a target of choice for hackers and cyber criminals wishing to demonstrate their skills and prowess. In 2009, a 15-year-old, Jonathan James, was jailed for six months for hacking into NASA and Pentagon computer systems.


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