Stole Information to "Take Control" of Military Satellites and Other Systems


Pentagon Cyber Hackers Claim NASA Also Cracked
by Deborah Zabarenko

Source: Reuters

April 25, 1998

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - An international group of computer hackers who successfully broke into the telecommunications backbone of the U.S. military said Wednesday they had also stolen key software programs from NASA. The group, which calls itself the ``Masters of Downloading’’ or MOD, said the cyber-attack had stripped the U.S. space agency of its chief defense against computer intrusion and would allow them ``to pass undetected through their systems.’’ MOD announced earlier it had broken into another sensitive site, the Pentagon’s Defense Information Systems Network (DISN), and stolen enough information to ``take control’’ of military satellites and other systems.

MOD, which includes at least two Russian members, said it might consider selling the information to international terrorist groups or foreign governments. Defense Department officials confirmed the intrusion had taken place, but said the stolen software package did not in itself constitute classified information. The DISN, which one Pentagon official described as the ’’telecommunications backbone’’ for the Defense Department, is key to a number of military systems including the Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite network which U.S. military planners use for everything from missile targeting to troop movement information.

Computer expert John Vranesevich, who runs the AntiOnline Web site devoted to information security issues (, said Wednesday that MOD had contacted him with new claims about a break-in at NASA. ``They have access to a lot more than they’ve given to me, or let me know about,’’ Vranesevich told Reuters. ``The materials that they’ve supplied to me are the bottom of the totem pole, they are boosting their credibility with proof that they can get into these various systems.’’ According to MOD, which sent Vranesevich samples of the alleged NASA software to back up its claim, members of the group broke into system through the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, and took away enough information to effectively disable any ``intruder alert’’ system the agency’s computers might have.

Specifically, the group said it now had key pieces of the NASA Automatic Systems Incident Response Capability (NASIRC) software package and was able to break into NASA computer servers with impunity. NASA had no immediate comment on the group’s claims, although one official who had seen a list of the software allegedly stolen said ``it doesn’t look too alarming.’’ ``It is pretty trivial stuff that is openly available. It doesn’t look like something a super-slick hacker would take,’’ the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said. Vranesevich, who has conducted several online interviews with MOD members, said the group appeared both more mature and more dangerous than the teen-age hackers who mounted a widely-publicized cyber-assault on the Pentagon in February. ``They are much more secretive, much more careful, and much more sophisticated,’’ said Vranesevich, who was instrumental in tracking down the 18-year-old Israeli hacker known as the ’’Analyzer’’.

He said MOD members, some of whom claim to be computer security specialists themselves, contact him with an elaborate system of passwords and cover their tracks by routing communication through a variety of computer systems all over the world.

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