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Curiosity Rover May Be Vulnerable to Hacking

Curiosity Rover May Be Vulnerable to Hacking

Posted on 14th Aug 2012 @ 11:55 AM

mars-rover.jpgCuriosity has been on the front page of everyone’s newspaper around the world for weeks now. For the very few people who have not heard the news by now, NASA has successfully landed a roving robot, named Curiosity, onto the surface of the planet Mars. The kinds of secrets and discoveries that await us could be limitless, and NASA is currently streaming live footage from the red planet and placing it on the internet for all to see. As technologically advanced as Curiosity is, is it secure? Or, like many other devices and products that we use in our everyday life, is it widely open to hack attacks and commandeering for someone else’s purposes?

At this time, NASA is taking a moment to upgrade the firmware on the Curiosity rover. This is a good countermeasure to prevent hacking. However, just the thought the firmware of one of the most pivotal pieces of technology of all time was lacking proves that security was not a primary concern when Curiosity was being designed. This is a huge oversight that could have lead to disaster for the project.

Currently, NASA has installed VxWorks into the rover. VxWorks is a very popular embedded operating system that is use all over the world. The Spirit and Opportunity Mars rovers also had their software updated in 2007, which included firmware updates. Experts at Extreme Tech have made it very clear that there is nothing to stop a hacker from gaining entry to the Mars rover Curiosity by was of a hack attack. And apparently, according to them, it would not be so difficult either.

Experts say that there are two ways for a hacker to gain access to the Mars rover.  The first and much more complicated way of doing it would be to create a network with equal power to the NASA’s Deep Space Network. This would allow a hacker to perform uplink communications and possibly even give commands to the rover. As mentioned, it would be very difficult, though not impossible for a well-funded group with enough technical epertise.

However it would be easier to hack into NASA and use its infrastructure to take over Curiosity. This would require you breaking into mission control at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab and issue your own commands via the DSN antennae. These are quite common. In March, NASA announced that it was the victim of 47 advanced persistent threat attacks, 13 of which gave Chinese hackers access to NASA’s internal network.

The Chinese hackers nicked login credentials of 150 NASA employees, which could later be used to access other secure systems. In another case the hackers gained complete control of a NASA system, allowing them to delete or modify files, upload hacking tools, and modify system logs to conceal their actions.

Fortunately for the US, the Chinese are just as interested in Curiosity’s findings and besides the whole world gets the benefits. So at the moment it is possible, but more trouble than it is worth.  However it does mean that NASA might need to look at ways of securing its hardware in the near future.

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AUTHOR - Michael Peros

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