NASA officials denied reports Monday that a computer hacker attack in 1997 endangered astronauts by disrupting communications with the space shuttle Atlantis, The Associated Press (AP) reported.
The British Broadcasting Corp. had reported that during a rendezvous with the Russian space station Mir, a hacker interfered with communications and forced the shuttle crew to use the Russian station to maintain contact with NASA.
"At no point did ground controllers lose contact with the astronauts. That never happened," National Aeronautics and Space Administration spokesman Bob Jacobs told AP. He added the astronauts never used the Russian space station as a communications relay.
Jacobs did confirm a hacker had delayed the transmission of astronaut medical data between NASA computer systems on the ground, but backup systems corrected the problem. The medical information had already been sent down from the shuttle and was being distributed to different locations.
"People try to hack into the system constantly, but any mission critical computer system is insulated from the communications network," he said, noting that hackers had made about 500,000 attacks against the space agency in the last year.
Jacobs said NASA's headquarters didn't know who had conducted the attack, but the agency's inspector general is investigating the incident.
The BBC could not immediately be reached for comment.
However, NASA spokesperson Ed Campion told Newsbytes.com, "two ground-based computers were delayed in talking to each other [as a result of the 1997 hack] and in fact, the transmission went through."
The spokesman, nevertheless, downplayed the delay saying the hack had no effect on "information that was flowing up to, or down from, the space shuttle."
The BBC reported that Roberta Gross, NASA inspector general, said, "we had an activity at NASA center where a hacker was overloading our system ... to such an extent that it interfered with communications between the NASA center, some medical communications and the astronaut aboard the shuttle."
Jacobs said Gross had been referring to the disruption on the ground and not any problem communicating with the astronauts.
The BBC report was released in advance of a documentary aired Monday called "Cyber Attack," which looked at how hackers penetrate the computer defenses of countries like the United States and Britain.
During the September 1997 mission, the space shuttle Atlantis retrieved astronaut Michael Foale, who had spent 134 days aboard Mir.
Last Thursday, a former computer science student of Northeastern University pleaded guilty to going on a hacking spree against private and government targets, including the military and NASA. Ikenna Iffih, 20, broke into computers at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. and installed a program to capture users' names and passwords -- (Several Sources)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)