US indicts Romanian over NASA climate change hack

US indicts Romanian over NASA climate change hack

Summary: 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.

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TOPICS: Telcos
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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.

Topic: Telcos

David Meyer

About David Meyer

David Meyer is a freelance technology journalist. He fell into journalism when he realised his musical career wouldn't pay the bills. David's main focus is on communications, as well as internet technologies, regulation and mobile devices.

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4 comments
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  • ""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."

    Just how incompetent are NASA!? Two months to restore from backup (I'm assuming here they were competent enough to have backups - perhaps an assumption to far).

    I think the "steps to prevent further access by hackers" should not be counted AGAINST 25-year-old Robert Butyka, indeed, his actions indirectly HELPED NASA properly secure their systems. Remuneration for that indirect help, lets say $500k and call it quits.

    It's a similar case with British hacker Gary McKinnon in the indirect help he afforded US institutions. They should both be paid & receive a thank you note, rather than being vexatiously perused with a ego-driven vendetta.
    awbMaven
  • Sure, that makes perfect sense. Pay wrong-doers money and thank them for breaching your security and pointing out your flaws, that would surely discourage other wrong-doers from doing the same.

    Similarly, thank & pay murderers for helping curb the growing population, child molesters for educating children on sex, and drug dealers for providing a mechanism of escape for the down-trodden. Then we would live in the perfect Eden.

    Drat, forgot the golden rule: don't argue with idiots, they'll bring you down to their level, then beat you with experience.
    anonymous
  • @k0tcs3
    IMO Yes it IS perfect sense!
    If talented but amateur computer hackers can break-in to such important sites, the negligent owners of these site are to a large degree culpable. These sites are installed and maintained by very expensively trained professionals of the US Government. They have enormous budgets and resources.
    In contrast the hackers highlighted here have very limited resources but good talents. Why waste their valuable talents? Yes punish them first but later they should be persuaded to employ their computer skills put to good work.
    Agnostic_OS
  • @Agnostic_OS
    On that, I can agree. After they have been punished, attempt to put their abilities to good use.

    What I was astounded by was awbMaven saying that the criminals should get a pat on the head and a thank you for doing something that, let's be honest, they were doing for, at the very least, the thrill of it, if not for personal gain. They were NOT doing it to help the organization(s) they targeted. To try to portray it in a way that they did a service and should be thanked for it is moronic. There is a big difference between someone doing something that you ask them to do and receiving compensation vs someone doing something nefarious that highlights a vulnerability "just because they can".
    anonymous