Critical NASA network was open to internet attack

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.

MORE ON SPACE: Gigantic changes keep space technology hot

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.

"These deficiencies occurred because NASA had not fully assessed and mitigated risks to the network and had not assigned responsibility for IT security oversight to ensure the network was adequately protected," the report says. "A security breach of a moderate- or high-impact system or project on this key network could severely disrupt NASA operations or result in the loss of sensitive data."

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.

In addition to the oversight program on Internet-connected servers, NASA's CIO promises she will start a pilot program by Aug. 21 for spotting risks on the rest of NASA's networks that don't have Internet connectivity.

The IG performed port scans using Nmap and manually verified open ports. It also performed NESSUS vulnerability scans.

Read more about wide area network in Network World's Wide Area Network section.

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags Configuration / maintenanceNASAsecurityhardware systemsshuttleData Centerserver

More about ASAetworkLANNASAShuttle

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Tim Greene

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Will your data protection strategy be enough when disaster strikes?

    Speakers: - Paul O’Connor, Engagement leader - Performance Audit Group, Victorian Auditor-General’s Office (VAGO) - Nigel Phair, Managing Director, Centre for Internet Safety - Joshua Stenhouse, Technical Evangelist, Zerto - Anthony Caruana, CSO MC & Moderator

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts

Market Place