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Infrastructure Technology Group Questions Hacker Group’s NASA Breach Claim


Lester Coleman

Lester Coleman

Lester Coleman is a veteran business journalist based in the United States. He has covered the payments industry for several years and is available for writing assignments.


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Infrastructure Technology Group Questions Hacker Group’s NASA Breach Claim

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The Institute for Critical Infrastructure Technology (ICIT), a non-partisan group of innovation experts and firms that provides solutions to support and protect critical infrastructure, has questioned the AnonSec hacker group’s claim that it breached NASA’s internal networks and almost crashed a Global Hawk Drone in the Pacific Ocean. Hacked reported AnonSec’s claim on Monday.

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AnonSec claimed that in 2013 it bought an “initial foothold” from a hacker who had knowledge of NASA servers, then started trying to find out how many computers they could break into and hijack. The hackers claimed they gained flight logs, employee personal information and video footage from the $222 million drone.

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James Scott, ICIT co-founder and senior fellow, contacted Hacked and presented an assessment of the hacktivists’ claims.

Hacktivists’ Claims Scrutinized

An AnonSec administrator contacted a journalist and claimed to have exfiltrated between 100 to 276GB of data from NASA drone systems and servers, according to Scott. AnonSec also claims to have provided The Guardian and Wikileaks with copies of the encrypted data.

The next day, the hacker group provided “samples” of the data online, supposedly containing 631 aircraft and radar videos, information on 2,414 employees, and 2,143 flight logs.

AnonSec said it targeted NASA because they want the agency to disclose the amount of radioactive and hazardous chemicals in the upper atmosphere. AnonSec claims NASA obfuscated the real levels in an effort to diminish the global warming threat.

The hacktivist group has threatened to reveal its stolen data through The Guardian and Wikileaks if NASA fails to release its actual finding in the next month.

It released only a teaser video on the indexed Internet. Larger files allegedly from the breach have surfaced on the darknet, but the data hasn’t been verified.

Accessing NASA Servers

Scott said the group did not breach NASA systems through any sophisticated attack vector. They bought a foothold on the deepweb from a hacker with “knowledge of NASA servers.” The seller could have been a malicious threat actor inside NASA. Other accounts indicate the hacker could have established a presence by accidentally infecting a NASA system with the gozi virus.

AnonSec claims it used a sniffing program to steal a system administrator password. These stolen credentials allowed the group to access at least three network-attached storage devices (NAS) that contained backup copies of flight logs and data.

The group also claims to have focused on these systems in order to copy data as NASA employees uploaded new data. It targeted drone systems because the systems record chemical samples from the upper atmosphere. It dedicated members to the technical aspects of the breach like infecting new hosts, compromising camera systems or mapping the network.

Other members sifted through the allegedly stolen data.

Corroborating Claims Challenging

Corroborating or disproving the hacktivists’ claims may be difficult for security experts since the group claims to have deleted indicators of their network presence.

The current status of the breach is still at “claim” level and there has been no response from NASA or the FBI that legitimizes the claim, Scott said.

AnonSec claims it spent months in NASA’s internal network. Scott said it is hard to believe NASA hasn’t created a technologically sophisticated cyber barricade around its infrastructure.

What NASA Could Have Done

If AnonSec’s breach claim is accurate, NASA could have used the following methods to slow down the breach:

1) User behavior analytics. This is an early warning mechanism to detect user behavior abnormalities.

2) User behavior biometrics. This is another early warning mechanism that is valuable when used to detect physical abnormalities in users’ technical behavior.

3) Multi-layered field encryption of data in transit and stationary, including name, email, phone, etc. should each of these have individual encryption algorithms. If the adversary breaches the network and goes undetected and can exfiltrate information, they have to decrypt each field.

4) Ongoing penetration testing. This is penetration testing by skilled hired hackers to uncover vulnerabilities in the network and IoT attached devices.

5) Insider threat analysis. People who work at federal agencies with access to classified material must undergo direct and indirect psychological and lifestyle assessments to see if they are under threat or could become a threat. Credit profile, marital and family relationships, financial threats and professional satisfaction all play a role in assessing the possible threats from inside an organization.

6) Consider that each network, device, drone, NASA location is vulnerable and breached until proven otherwise by penetration testing and vulnerability assessment/risk analysis. Such simulations consider all known threat actors, exploits and vulnerabilities.

7) Change administration credentials from “default” to a creative combination.

The above information is based on what is known about the breach that AnonSec claims to have facilitated, Scott said.

What Did AnonSec Divulge?

Also contesting the credibility of the hack is that the leaked employee information only consists of names, email addresses and phone numbers. Much of that information is attainable on the open internet and the all of that information can be stolen from a hacked Microsoft Outlook account (or comparable email client).

The prototype hacker process begins with the following steps, Scott said. Knowing these steps can help organizations spot vulnerabilities.

• Reconnaissance. This is the social engineering phase, intelligence gathering on the target and various paths to the target
• Internal exploitation.
• Establish persistence and gain a foothold.
• Install tools.
• Move laterally throughout the network.
• Collect, exfiltrate and exploit.

Images from Shutterstock and ICIT.

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Lester Coleman

Lester Coleman

Lester Coleman is a veteran business journalist based in the United States. He has covered the payments industry for several years and is available for writing assignments.

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