Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Critical NASA Network was Open to Internet Attack

Via -

Six NASA servers exposed to the Internet had critical vulnerabilities that could have endangered Space Shuttle, International Space Station and Hubble Telescope missions -- flaws that would have been found by a security oversight program the agency agreed to last year but hasn't yet implemented, according to a report by the agency's inspector general.

NASA's CIO Linda Cureton says she has patched the vulnerabilities, but IG Paul Martin found that NASA still has no ongoing program for spotting and correcting similar problems as they arise and is giving itself until the end of September just to come up with a plan, according to the report titled "Inadequate Security Practices Expose Key NASA Network to Cyber Attack." The deadline for the plan is Sept. 30.

The six vulnerable servers were associated with IT projects that control spacecraft or contain critical NASA information, the report says. The audit also found other servers that exposed encryption keys, encrypted passwords and user-account information, all of which could enable attackers to gain unauthorized network access. The report didn't assess the agencywide network that isn't directly used for missions.


One server was found vulnerable to FTP bounce attacks, which if exploited, "could have significantly disrupted NASA's space flight operations and stolen sensitive data," the report says. Other servers weren't securely configured, exposing the encryption keys, encrypted passwords and user account lists to attackers.

The IG says NASA didn't know about these problems but could have if it performed broad risk assessment, part of the agreed-to security program. "As a result, NASA's Agency-wide mission network was vulnerable to a variety of cyber attacks with the potential for devastating adverse effects on the mission operations the network supports," the report says.


NASA have been targeted in the past by more sophisticated attackers as well.

Avocado: NASA's Titan Rain (Suspected APT) (Nov 2008)
In April 2005, cyber-burglars slipped into the digital network of NASA's supposedly super-secure Kennedy Space Center east of Orlando, according to internal NASA documents reviewed by BusinessWeek and never before disclosed. The violated network is managed by a joint venture owned by NASA contractors Boeing (BA) and Lockheed Martin (LMT).

Undetected by the space agency or the companies, the program, called stame.exe, sent a still-undetermined amount of information about the Shuttle to a computer system in Taiwan. That nation is often used by the Chinese government as a digital way station, according to U.S. security specialists.

By December 2005, the rupture had spread to a NASA satellite control complex in suburban Maryland and to the Johnson Space Center in Houston, home of Mission Control. At least 20 gigabytes of compressed data—the equivalent of 30 million pages—were routed from the Johnson center to the system in Taiwan, NASA documents show. Much of the data came from a computer server connected to a network that tracks malfunctions that could threaten the International Space Station.

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