IG slams ET search

IG slams ET search

Tennessee Valley Authority employees compromised computer security while downloading a program that seeks aliens in space, according to TVA's inspector general.

Sixteen employees and one contractor used the program for a year to check radio telescope data for evidence of aliens after downloading it onto 17 office computers from the University of California at Berkeley, an IG report said.

The employees violated TVA policy by downloading the Berkeley program, called SETI@home. SETI is an acronym for search for extraterrestrial intelligence. The program could have given hackers access to the agency's computers or exposed the systems to viruses, the IG noted.

SETI@home lets the university use farms of computers to analyze radio signals from space collected by a telescope in Puerto Rico. The computers send the results through the Internet to the university's central computer.

The IG found no evidence of damage to TVA's network. The employees who took part in the action were given verbal warnings, and TVA set up a program to heighten workers' awareness of computer security issues.

'P. Vasishtha

Reader Comments

Mon, Dec 14, 2009 Jorth Storm Frederciksburg, VA USA

BOINC a security issue? How? I've been running BOINC and it's predecessor SETI@Home since the beginning on both Windows and Linux. I've watched it's network activity and examined the program code. *****What it does (simplified)- it downloads via HTTP a work unit. The work unit is stored on your computer, usually files of just a few hundred kilobytes, and when the computer is otherwise idle, the BOINC manager software takes a work unit, reads it into RAM and begins running mathematical algorithms on the data in the work unit. When the work unit is complete, the BOINC manager reports results via HTTP, and gets another work unit. *****What it doesn't do: The work units are not executable program files. They are groups of numbers representing the time the info was gathered, the direction the antenna is pointed and the strength of the radio signals received. Work unit integrity is assured by checksums generated at both ends of the connection. No information other than work units and reports are touched by the BOINC software. BOINC does not update automatically. BOINC does not cause harm to your computer. I have several computers that have been running BOINC 24/7 for over 4 years and have had no problems with hardware. It makes no changes to your operating system. BOINC does not make any data on your computer, other than the BOINC data directory accessible to the program. No remote control programs, no spyware.

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