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Security experts scoff at Mars rover hack threat

Taylor Armerding | Aug. 23, 2012
Viewed as a 'weak' attempt at trolling using Anonymous' name, or effort by law enforcement to lure hackers

"I think the answers are 'probably' and 'less likely,' but both remain non-zero," Arlen said, adding that he thinks NASA is making major efforts to tighten the security of the mission. "I think that the instantiation of the multiple layers of communications between the various assets operating on and around Mars is a leading indication that NASA is paying attention to what is important."

"The work done by Vint Cerf and JPL on the Interplanetary Internet is an indication that people smarter than you or me are actively working the problem," he said.

Still, Arlen said anyone on earth can listen to the conversations between NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab and Mars. "Some limitations are imposed by physics -- it's easier to listen to the response than to pick up some sort of scatter on the send -- but overall, as DirectTV is all too aware, radio waves freely propagate."

What kind of damage or mischief could such a hack cause? Arlen said he doubts it would destroy or seriously damage the rover, although "the bad guys don't care what they wreck." What's more likely: "They're just looking to goof things up, preferably in a way that embarrasses the U.S. government."

Arlen said even if this post is simply trolling, "with Software Defined Radio and things like the GNURadio/Ettus USRP, we're entering a new age of 'interesting' when it comes to radio communications."

"Think about things like the NinjaTel network at DEF CON 20 / Shadytel at Toorcamp and the cell-tower-on-a-usb-stick that Ettus has. These are going to be awfully interesting times for people who expect 'the rules' to be followed," Arlen said.


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