Possible Iranian hack of NASA stresses need for site certification

A computer analyst who retraced the attackers’ self-reported steps says the space agency’s login Web page likely was unprotected.

Recent claims that an Iranian student group compromised NASA researchers’ online accounts by redirecting users from a seemingly valid login page to a password-stealing website underscore the importance of digitally certifying internal agency sites, a cybersecurity analyst said.

The space agency has refuted the “man-in-the-middle” attack but acknowledged it is revalidating its computer systems, just in case.

The pro-regime Iranians, self-dubbed the Cyber Warriors Team, orchestrated the ruse by allegedly erecting a proxy Web page that brought visitors to their intended destinations, only after capturing their login details. The site might have been vulnerable to this kind of gambit because the digital certificate NASA used to avow the page’s authenticity either had expired or wasn’t signed by a trusted third party, analysts say. The hackers partially revealed their methods in broken English on an online bulletin board.

Whether or not the hit was real, the asserted ploy demonstrates why agencies should certify Web pages that transmit personal information, not just encrypt the information, said Johannes Ullrich, chief research officer at the SANS Institute. “They only protect the transmission of the information,” he said Thursday. “The page, the login form itself, is not protected.”

Ullrich said digital certificates are available for free and setup takes about five minutes, but managers often feel the time spent proving to a third party they are affiliated with their site is too much of an administrative burden.

“The lesson should be to stop using self-signed or invalid certificates for ‘obscure’ internal websites,” he wrote in a blog entry earlier in the day. “I have frequently seen the argument that for an internal website ‘it is not important,’ or ‘too expensive,’ or ‘too complex’ to setup a valid certificate. [Encryption] isn't doing much for you if the certificate is not valid. The encryption . . . only works if the authentication works as well. Otherwise, you never know if the key you negotiated was negotiated with the right party.”

The Cyber Warriors Team says it is “Organized and Formed Of Programmers and Hackers.( Independently and separately ).” and describes its stunt as follows: “We obtain User information for thousands of NASA researcher [sic] With Emails and Accounts of other users. Send For You [sic] soon Videos of Man in the middle attack and Stealing relationship ( Addressing security managers at NASA).”

NASA officials said in a statement that “an Iranian hacker group posted a message on a website claiming to have compromised a NASA Web-based computer system” on May 16, and the agency “discovered the message within hours of its initial post.”

Officials noted that false claims of intrusions into NASA information technology systems are common, citing two other bogus claims posted on the same site the same day the Iranian message appeared.

In the case of the Iranian hackers, “although the investigation is ongoing, all results thus far indicate that the claims are false,” officials stated. “However, to ensure that the subject systems are secure, NASA is revalidating its security profiles to ensure they are operating with minimal risk. IT security remains a critical function at NASA. At no point were any sensitive, mission or classified systems compromised.”

This is not the first time Iran supporters have targeted a U.S. government-funded website. On Feb. 20, 2011, the site of U.S.-backed broadcaster Voice of America Persian was defaced by an Iranian pro-government group, according to sister station Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty. The main VOA site also appeared to have been hacked later that day.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.