Cyberattacks paralyze the world’s two most advanced telescopes
Cybercriminals have managed to disrupt the operations of two of the world’s most advanced telescopes, leaving the global astronomical community concerned about the security of vital scientific infrastructure.
The exact nature and origin of these cyberattacks remain a mystery, but the observatories were forced to temporarily halt research activities.
The National Science Foundation’s National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory, known as NOIRLab, revealed that a devastating cybersecurity incident on August 1st compelled them to cease operations at both the Gemini North Telescope in Hawaii and the Gemini South Telescope in Chile. Smaller telescopes on Cerro Tololo in Chile also fell prey to the hackers.
In a statement released on August 24th, NOIRLab expressed its commitment to resolving the issue swiftly: “Our staff are working with cybersecurity experts to get all the impacted telescopes and our website back online as soon as possible and are encouraged by the progress made thus far.” However, due to the ongoing investigation, the laboratory remains cautious about divulging specifics regarding the attacks’ nature and origin.
“We plan to provide the community with more information when we are able to, in alignment with our commitment to transparency as well as our dedication to the security of our infrastructure,” the statement added.
These cyberattacks against NOIRLab unfolded just days before the United States National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC) warned American space companies and research organizations about the looming threat of cyberattacks and espionage.
The NCSC emphasized that foreign spies and hackers are acutely aware of the commercial space industry’s critical role in the U.S. economy and national security. They recognize the growing dependence on space-based assets, viewing American space-related innovation and assets as potential threats and opportunities to acquire essential technologies and expertise.
According to Space, this is not the first time astronomical observatories have found themselves in the crosshairs of cyberattacks. In October 2022, hackers disrupted operations at the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile, and NASA, the United States’ premier space agency, has suffered from cyberattacks for several years.
In 2021, NASA experienced the far-reaching consequences of the worldwide SolarWinds breach, a major cybersecurity wake-up call for the agency’s leadership.
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