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Mars Curiosity under hacker attack?

Published time: August 14, 2012 19:12
Edited time: August 14, 2012 23:12
Rover Curiosity, of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory.(REUTERS / Handout)

Rover Curiosity, of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory.(REUTERS / Handout)

Either hackers are considering making Mars their own or else the FBI is engaged in perhaps their most far-fetched entrapment operation yet. A request has reportedly been made over the Web for help in hacking NASA’s Curiosity rover.

According to a report first published in PCMag, an Internet Relay Chat user entered a room frequented by operatives of the Anonymous hacktivism collective and asked for assistance in getting unauthorized access to Curiosity, the $2.5-billion rover currently collecting tests on the surface of the Earth’s elusive red neighbor.

A chat log obtained by PCMag from a conversation within the AnonOps IRC channel allegedly includes communiqué from a user corresponding under the online identity “MarsCuriosity.” In what is being considered a possible plea for an interstellar hacking operation, though, “curiosity” could be considered a vast understatement.

"Anyone in Madrid, Spain or Canbarra who can help isolate the huge control signal used for the Mars Odyssey / Curiosity system please? The cypher and hopping is a standard mode, just need base frequency and recordings/feed of the huge signal going out. (yes we can spoof it both directions!),” the user writes.

The request made over Internet Relay Chat comes only days after PCMag’s Damon Poetry wrote an in-depth article called ‘How to Hack NASA’s Curiosity Rover.’

“We don't recommend anybody actually try this,” Poeter cautions in the initial piece. “Let science do its thing, people!”

“As we found out after talking to several hackers, crackers, and security pros, the resources required to pull this off are prohibitive—the folks with the actual resources required to compromise Curiosity (*cough* China *cough*) don't need our cobbled-together advice on how to do it,” Poeter adds.

“In other words, a state-backed actor could maybe take over NASA's planetary crawler, but the script kiddies are pretty much SOL here.”

Never mind the obstacles involved in hacking into a remote-controlled rover more than 350 million miles away though: someone who could be a clever Anon or even an undercover agent provocateur has posted a message looking for help. PCMag has been quick to call out the attempt, noting that the user in question could be a jokester or else a genuine hacker hell-bent on having their own collection of Mars dust.

The plea was first discovered by Flashpoint Partners, a consulting service company that has kept a close eye on Anonymous for several months, if not longer. According to PCMag, Flashpoint’s employees have "deep experience inside hacker communities … developed through years of passive monitoring and active engagement within hacker circles.”

According to PCMag’s report, Flashpoint co-founder Josh Lefkowitz has suggested that the “MarsCuriosity” alias was likely a one-off user account created specifically for the attempted hack. “There's even the possibility that the poster is an anti-Anonymous actor or member of law enforcement seeking to draw out actual members of the collective.” Given the FBI infiltration of LulzSec last year and the highly publicized scandal involving the suspected ringleader-turned-snitch Sabu though, entrapping Anons into an out-of-this-world op isn’t completely out of the question.

Examiner.com reports that Flashpoint sent a warning to its clients that an attempt to hack the rover may actually be in the works, although doubtful. Flashpoint has in the past taken Anonymous’ work quite seriously, though; Roger W. Cressey, an advisory board member of Flashpoint, has publically addressed other operations linked to Anonymous in the past, telling the New York Times earlier this year that those actions should serve as “a wake-up call” to the defense and intelligence community, and that “Any company that is patting themselves on the back and saying that they’re not a target or not susceptible to attack is in complete and utter denial.” Cressey is senior vice president of Booz Allen Hamilton and is reported to have ties with the National Security Council.

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