Technology 3 min read

Hacker Uses a Nanocomputer to Steal Data From NASA

Sundry Photography /

Sundry Photography /

A nanocomputer is a computer reduced to its simplest functional form with the aim to increase tech accessibility.

First introduced by the charity Raspberry Pi Foundation in 2012, the Raspberry Pi is an innovative pocket-sized computer intended for the general public, young and old, beginners and amateurs.

The Raspberry Pi organization has just announced the release of the fourth generation of its budget desktop PC, the completely re-engineered Raspberry Pi 4. With a $35 starting price, the Raspberry Pi wants to be within reach of most people around the world.

Slightly larger than a credit card, the Raspberry Pi nanocomputer comes with a faster CPU, up to 4GB of RAM, Bluetooth 5.0, 4K HDMI output, Ethernet port, two USB ports, and other improved specs.

People use the Raspberry Pi for a myriad of projects and participate in use challenges, like using it to power a wearable computer, a home theatre, a smart lock… etc

However, there’s more to this nanocomputer than meets the eye, as it can be used to launch a cyber attack like NASA has learned the hard way.

The Nanocomputer Behind NASA’s Big Security Breach

When the Rasberry Foundation said that people are using its nanocomputer to do “incredible things” every day, it means benign and useful things. One has to assume that using it to break into the network of a major organization like NASA is not one of them because that has just happened.

Well, it happened last year, but the unfortunate event was only confirmed recently. And, there’s also a catch.

Last June 18th, NASA released the audit report Cybersecurity Management And Oversight At The Jet Propulsion Laboratory. It revealed a cybersecurity incident that occurred in April 2018, which went undetected for ten months.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), dedicated to robotic space missions, was instrumental in the progress of the Space Age with its satellites and spacecraft.

JPL discovered that an intruder was able to steal data about one of its “major mission systems” through an unauthorized nanocomputer (a Raspberry Pi) attached to JPL’s servers. And this is the catch as the Raspberry Pi computer was exploited as the weakest link.

The hacker stole 500 MB of data from more than 20 files, with two of these files dealing with sensitive military and space technology transfer.

IT experts at JPL “discovered an account belonging to an external user had been compromised and used to steal approximately 500 megabytes of data from one of its major mission systems.”

The audit also revealed the existence of several other devices connected to the NASA network, but they’re not deemed malicious.

“We found the database inventory incomplete and inaccurate, placing at risk JPL’s ability to effectively monitor, report, and respond to security incidents. Moreover, reduced visibility into devices connected to its networks hinders JPL’s ability to properly secure those networks.”

The hacking incident has caused NASA to stop its agencies from using a core gateway for fear of another cyber attack that might affect its active spacecraft.

Read More: Metals Fraud Leads To Failure Of $700m NASA Satellite Launch

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Zayan Guedim

Trilingual poet, investigative journalist, and novelist. Zed loves tackling the big existential questions and all-things quantum.

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