NASA launches investigation into internal server breach

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The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has said a breach in its internal servers may have resulted in the theft of highly sensitive and personally identifiable employee information, according to an internal memo to staff.

The breach is said to have occurred on 23 October when hackers gained access to one server which contained personally identifiable information (PII), which housed social security numbers and other sensitive data, the organisation revealed on Tuesday.

NASA said investigations were started immediately after the discovery of the incident but added that the number of employees affected is still unknown. However, it said that information on both current and former NASA employees may have been compromised.

"NASA Civil Service employees who were on-boarded, separated from the agency, and/or transferred between Centers, from July 2006 to October 2018, may have been affected," the memo read.

Once the investigation is complete, the affected employees will be notified and NASA promise to provide follow-up information and offer identity protection services and other related resources to those affected.

"Upon discovery of the incidents, NASA cybersecurity personnel took immediate action to secure the servers and the data contained within," the memo read. "NASA and its Federal cyber security partners are continuing to examine the servers to determine the scope of the potential data exfiltration and identify potentially affected individuals.

"This process will take time. The ongoing investigation is a top agency priority, with senior leadership actively involved," NASA added.

NASA has said that there is no reason to believe that any data relating to operational missions were jeopardised as a result of the breach.

NASA suffered a similar security breach back in 2016 where attackers attempted to immobilise a drone worth $222 million and also exfiltrate 250gb worth of data including flight videos and employee details. In that incident, hackers revealed a member of their group had previous knowledge of NASA systems and that the organisation's security credentials had been set to default.

"Our entire leadership team takes the protection of personal information very seriously. Information security remains a top priority for NASA," the memo read. "NASA is continuing its efforts to secure all servers, and is reviewing its processes and procedures to ensure that the latest security practices are being followed throughout the agency."

Connor Jones
News and Analysis Editor

Connor Jones has been at the forefront of global cyber security news coverage for the past few years, breaking developments on major stories such as LockBit’s ransomware attack on Royal Mail International, and many others. He has also made sporadic appearances on the ITPro Podcast discussing topics from home desk setups all the way to hacking systems using prosthetic limbs. He has a master’s degree in Magazine Journalism from the University of Sheffield, and has previously written for the likes of Red Bull Esports and UNILAD tech during his career that started in 2015.