BusinessWeek — The Taking of NASA’s Secrets

The Russians Are Coming!
Oops, They've Been In Our Networks Since the 1980's

The Russians meddling in the 2016 U.S. national elections was the talk of the town in the United States if you listened to the media and the Democratic Party propaganda in the United States. If you believe the news media, you'd think this is a relatively new phenomenon. But the truth is, the Russian's have been infiltrating U.S. networks since at least the early 1980's.

With the invention of the World Wide Web and the introduction of Mosaic (the first open source browser) in mid-1993 and, the beginnings of the commercial Internet around 1995, we've seen cybercrime move from online U.S. Government reservations to the commercial Internet.

Between 1996 and 1999, Russian hackers broke into NASA networks to steal satellite command and control software source codes, monitor networks and, set up cyber trojan horses in network systems so they could take out or control the networks in the future. BusinessWeek contacted Tom in 2008 to research their story about cybersecurity at NASA.

NASA isn't that different from other organizational victims. Historically, the agency has disregarded recommendations to batten down their cyber doors.  In fact, the NASA CIO told Tom in 1999 that to implement Tom's 50-point security plan would ” … diminish the functionality our scientists enjoy for inter-Center collaboration … “. This is bureaucratic speak for “we don't want to do it”.

Sit back and enjoy, or rather, cringe at this report by Businessweek. Based on Tom's experience at NASA, it's all true.

Click on the link below to read the .pdf of this story.

The Taking of NASA Secrets—Businessweek

Note: There is a Wikipedia article about the ROSAT incident that stems from this Businessweek story and it is riddled with factual errors about the cyber attack.

1. The Wikipedia article incorrectly refers to Tom as the “senior investigator” for cybersecurity at NASA. This error stems from the Businessweek article. His correct title was Advanced Technology Programs Executive, in charge of the Advanced Technology Crimes Division at the NASA Inspector General's Office. The OIG is a separate entity embedded in NASA that is not subject to the control of NASA, the parent agency. The OIG has statutory authority (The Inspector General Act of 1978) to conduct criminal investigations and audits of NASA. Cybersecurity is a function of the security directorate at NASA, the parent agency.

2. The cyber attack portion of the Wikipedia article conflates two events that may lead a reader to infer the cyber attack is the only cause of the ROSAT satellite's turn toward the sun, leading to its failure. This conclusion, inferred by some people, is neither accurate nor is it true.

The cyber attack against ROSAT is one factual event. The satellite's turn toward the sun is a separate event.

The source of this conflation may stem from readers who parse two sentences in the 2008 Bloomburg-Businessweek story The Taking of NASA's Secrets. On page 76 of that story, under the header EARLY WARNING, paragraph four, in the last two sentences, the authors state, “… NASA announced in a press release that ROSAT had been “accidentally scanning too closely to the sun.” Talleur's report concluded otherwise…” 

The OIG advisory report cites the intrusion but did not assert the intrusion was the cause of the satellite's turn toward the sun.

3. A separate section of the cyber attack portion of this Wikipedia article cites statements by NASA Scientist Rob Petrie that are factually inaccurate and false as attributed to him by writer Jonathan McDowell, per the following paragraph above: 

” … However, NASA officials in charge of the day-to-day operations of the ROSAT mission at Goddard, including GSFC ROSAT Project Scientist Rob Petre, say definitively that no such incident occurred…”  

If, by this statement, the author of this article on Wikipedia or the writer McDowell means there was no intrusion, this assertion is false. If, this latter assertion means the OIG did not conclude the intrusion was the proximate cause of the satellite's turn toward the sun, this assertion is true. 

Another outright fabrication in the same paragraph in the Wikipedia article is as follows: 

” … Talleur's information appears to have come from one of his interns who exaggerated a hacking incident on an office computer unrelated to flight operations …” 

This statement is false. First, Tom never had an intern work for him during his federal law enforcement career. Second, the OIG report stems from the collaboration of a team of experts, two GS-14 and two GS-15 Directors in the OIG Advanced Technology Crime Division, all of whom were world-class cyber crime authorities with unmatched professional ability in their own right during this era. Given their expertise in certain aspects of cybercrime investigation, it took their collaborative efforts to compile this report.