Major Telescopes Disabled by Cyber Attacks

( – Two of the planet’s most powerful telescopes have been disabled by a cyberattack with unknown perpetrators. The National Science Foundation’s National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory (NOIRLab) discovered a breach in their cybersecurity which caused the Gemini North Telescope located in Hawaii, and the Gemini South Telescope based in Chile, to be temporarily shut down while investigators work to undo the damage caused by the intruders.

The attack also disabled smaller telescopes in Cerro Tololo, Chile. The statement from NOIRLab said that their staff and cybersecurity experts were working as fast as possible to get the telescopes back online. There is no word yet on the attack’s specific nature or who could be behind them. In their statement, NOIRLab said they’d be able to provide more specific details when they could as they were attempting to balance their dedication to transparency with their security needs.

Days after the attack disabled the telescopes, the U.S. National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC) put out a warning to American corporations and research institutions that there was a potential threat specifically for those companies doing space-based work. In their warning, they said that foreign bad actors and criminals know how valuable space research is and how more governments are becoming dependent on the infrastructure they provide. A great example is the need for Elon Musk’s Starlink satellites to provide high-speed internet service to warzones like Ukraine.

Cybercriminals have targeted telescopes before. Hackers attacked the Chilean Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array (ALMA) in October 2022. NASA frequently endures cyberattacks, including the infamous SolarWinds hack in 2021, which was largely blamed on Russia.

That hack was considered a major cybersecurity “wakeup call.” It allowed the hackers to gain access to emails across thousands of companies and multiple U.S. government agencies, including the Departments of Justice, and Commerce as well as the U.S. Treasury.

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