NASA scientists revealed today that they had been unable to contact the Pathfinder lander and the Sojourner rover for a period of over seven hours last week. During that time, the computers that are responsible for maintaining contact with Pathfinder were apparently under the control of hackers who had broken into the site through a modem dialup connection ordinarily used for system maintenance. Pictures revealed by NASA today showed that the hackers had reprogrammed the Sojourner rover to scrawl graffiti on the rock known as "Yogi". The grafitti appears to resemble the logo of a nefarious criminal hacker site known as "DigiCrime". Authorities have been questioning the chief members of DigiCrime, who deny any involvement in the incident. DigiCrime representatives were unavailable for comment.
The Sojourner rover appears to have suffered no significant damage other than losing precious time. NASA officials believe that the graffiti was created by spraying a lubricant from one of the Sojourner's robotic arms. The lubricant container in that arm is now empty, but the rover can function normally with the lubricant from the other arm.
According to NASA spokesman Carl Harmon, NASA officials quickly noticed that the breakin had occurred, and eliminated the connection from the modem. Unfortunately, by the time they realized there was a problem, the hackers had left behind a modified version of the inetd program on one of the control machines that continued to feed commands to the lander. Each time that NASA scientists tried to regain control by sending commands to the lander, they were rejected because the authentication keys in the lander had been replaced. The problem was finally fixed by reinstalling the operating system on the main control computer, breaking the new keys in the lander, and reinstalling new keys known only to NASA.
"If we had been able to use strong cryptography, this would not have happened", said Harmon. "Unfortunately, the combination of US export controls and NASA's joint space program with Russia resulted in an engineering design decision to use 40 bit keys," continued Harmon. The hackers were apparently able to break these keys with ease, and it took NASA some time to break the replacement keys again and regain control.
Former astronaut and now Senator John Glenn (R-Ohio) called for an immediate investigation into the apparent inability of the US to secure their civilian information systems. "If this is what NASA could do with all of their millions, we should probably worry about smaller organizations like the Air Traffic Control System", said Glenn.
NASA officials appeared to be more embarrassed than upset, but are still keeping a tight lid on information surrounding the incident. It is rumored that NASA officials are frantically investigating whether the same problem could arise with the Space Shuttle program. Officials from the Russian space program observed that Russia does not have such controls on cryptography, and the MIR space station is unaffected by the weakness.