The University of California's distributed-computing project that searches for extraterrestrial intelligence (Seti) was temporarily knocked offline by a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack last week.
Seti requires computer users to download a screensaver-type program that automatically downloads, analyses and returns 'units' of data collected from the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico.
Five years after its launch, Seti has cost about $500,000, but the project has produced more raw computing power than a 12 teraflop IBM ASCI White system, which would normally cost about $110m.
Earlier this year, Seti updated its systems to a project called the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing, or Boinc. The Boinc project opened the doors to cheap shared computing for a diverse range of academic projects, which includes the search for aliens. Boinc also allows participants to share their computing resources between different projects.
According to Seti's Web site, the Boinc server systems have experienced intermittent technical problems since the launch, but this is the first time Boinc has been the subject of a possibly malicious attack.
"We are now up and running again… Things might be a bit weird for a while; somebody decided to launch a denial of service attack yesterday afternoon," the Web log reported last Thursday.
Seti's Boinc team has not been available for comment.