Hackers grab satellite-control source code

By Jim Evans, IDG News Service |  Security

U.S. federal and Navy law enforcement officials confirmed Friday that they are looking into a computer hacking incident at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., in which an unidentified intruder downloaded some aerospace software that can be used to control satellites.

"The NCIS (Naval Criminal Investigative Service) has an ongoing investigation into the unlawful entry of a Naval Research Laboratory unclassified system," NCIS spokesman Paul O'Donnell said.

The hack was carried out over the Internet and took place Dec. 24, O'Donnell said. The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation is working with NCIS on the case.

More details were gleaned from aerospace software provider Exigent International Inc. late Friday. In a statement, the Melbourne, Florida-based company said the intruder gained access to a Naval Research Laboratory computer that contained its OS/COMET software.

A portion of the source code of an old version of the software package was downloaded by the intruder. The ground-control satellite communication software, called OS/COMET, can control one satellite or a whole constellation of them.

The source code was found on a computer in Stockholm belonging to Carbonide AB, a Swedish information technology company, and was successfully recovered, according to Exigent. The intruder did not gain control of Exigent's latest version of OS/COMET, version 4.0, B.R. "Bernie" Smedly, the company's chairman and chief executive officer, said in a statement.

Exigent filed a complaint Jan. 19 with the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida against Carbonide, the German school Universitat Kaiserslautern, and various unidentified "John Does," charging each with seven counts of unlawful activity, Exigent said in the statement. The company also filed for an injunction against the parties, it said, although it declined to elaborate.

According to a report by the Swedish tabloid Expressen on Friday, Exigent learned of the hack on Dec. 27 after its officials saw a log file that indicated the computer system had been compromised. German authorities also are assisting in the case, the report said.

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