US authorities have charged a Romanian hacker with causing massive damage to NASA equipment in an attack that took place just over a year ago.
25-year-old Robert Butyka, whose handle was 'Iceman', already received a three-year sentence and seven years' probation last month in Romania, over the same incident. However, on Tuesday a federal grand jury in the US said Butyka should face trial there too.
"The one-count indictment returned by the grand jury yesterday charges Butyka with unauthorised impairment of a protected computer," the US Department of Justice (DoJ) said in a statement on Wednesday. "If he is convicted of the computer hacking offense, Butyka would face a statutory maximum sentence of 10 years in a United States prison."
The hack took in 25 Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) computers that were part of NASA's Atmospheric Infrared Sounder Program, a scheme to support climate research and improve weather forecasting, the DoJ said.
According to NASA, whose computer crimes division investigated the case, the attack caused more than $500k (£316k) in damage. However, this figure "includes the costs of completing the work on the computers and the time lost to scientific researchers", the department explained.
"As a result of Butyka's alleged conduct, researchers were unable to use the computers for more than two months while NASA removed the malicious code in the machines, restored data and took steps to prevent further access by hackers," the DoJ said.
The attack in December 2010 was hardly the first time NASA has been hacked from abroad. Between late 2001 and early 2002, the British hacker Gary McKinnon also targeted NASA computers, as well as those from the Pentagon.
McKinnon is still fighting extradition to the US over that attack, which he admits happened. The hacker suffers from Asperger's Syndrome, a condition on the autistic spectrum, and his supporters say any jail time should be served in the UK, as that was where he was when he hacked NASA and the Pentagon.