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Vulnerabilities / Threats

Hacker Cuts Swath Through US Government Computers

Romanian man indicted for breaking into more than 150 federal government systems, violating live NASA data

A federal grand jury yesterday indicted a Romanian hacker for allegedly breaking into more than 150 U.S. government computer systems between March and October of this year, including those used to collect and process data from operational NASA spacecraft.

In a ten-count federal indictment, Victor Faur, 26, of Arad, Romania, was accused of being the leader of the "WhiteHat Team," a group of highly skilled hackers. According to the U.S. Attorney's Office of Central California, the group's objective was not to steal data, but to test their mettle against some of the most secure computers in the world.

The WhiteHat Team allegedly penetrated many of the computers associated with NASA space flight programs, including systems at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Goddard Space Flight Center, Sandia National Laboratory, and the U.S. Naval Observatory.

Following the hacks, NASA, the Energy Department, and the Navy could no longer rely on the integrity of their system data, so they had to rebuild the systems, leaving scientists and engineers to communicate manually with systems in orbit and in deep space. The agencies collectively spent nearly $1.5 million to find and fix the vulnerabilities.

The indictment does not accuse Faur of stealing data, but of vandalizing the computers penetrated by the WhiteHat Team. After hacking into and taking control of the government computers, Fau allegedly "caused the machines to display screens that flaunted the computer intrusion," according to the charges. Faur and his teammates also set up chat rooms and created email accounts on the hijacked systems, the U.S. Attorney said.

According to the indictment, the WhiteHat Team began its exploits using "brute force" attacks designed to guess usernames and passwords on computers at NASA, the Department of Energy, and other agencies. Once they found a working point of entry, they loaded a variety of programs -- including rootkits, keyloggers, sniffers, and spoofers -- to collect additional passwords and gain high-level access to interconnected machines at a variety of agencies and organizations.

Faur is charged with conspiracy and nine counts of computer intrusion. If convicted on all 10 counts, he faces a maximum sentence of 54 years in federal prison.

— Tim Wilson, Site Editor, Dark Reading

Tim Wilson is Editor in Chief and co-founder of Dark Reading.com, UBM Tech's online community for information security professionals. He is responsible for managing the site, assigning and editing content, and writing breaking news stories. Wilson has been recognized as one ... View Full Bio

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