Hacking case may be just the tip of the iceberg, NASA investigators say

Hacking case may be just the tip of the iceberg, NASA investigators say

By Tony Lee Orr

GCN Staff

A hacking case in which authorities last month charged a Boston man with breaking into NASA and Defense Logistics Agency computers is just one of several federal cybercrimes under investigation, government officials said.

NASA investigators, who worked with the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts, declined to reveal how many open cases federal detectives are working on.

The investigators said they treat hacker activity in much the same way that city police deal with gang activity: They don't talk about it.

But officials said such crimes appear to be increasing.

'This is not new. It is not going away,' said Stephen J. Nesbitt, director of operations at the Computer Crimes Division of NASA's Office of Criminal Investigations. 'This is going to expand.'

Last month, the Justice Department amended an earlier federal indictment brought against Ikenna Iffih, 28, to include charges that he broke into military and government computers, gained control of a NASA system, and interrupted business at an Internet service provider.

Justice prosecutors also allege that Iffih broke into Northeastern University's computers and copied the names, birth dates and Social Security numbers of 9,135 students, faculty members and alumni.

The home game

'All in all, the defendant used his home computer to leave a trail of cybercrime from coast to coast,' U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Donald Stern said.

In August, Iffih was charged with an April 10 computer attack on Zebra Marketing Online Services, a provider in Bainbridge Island, Wash.'If convicted, Iffih would face up to 10 years in prison and fines of up to $250,000, prosecutors said.

Court documents allege that the attack on government systems began in April when Iffih accessed a Defense Logistics Agency computer, damaging communications.

Iffih is accused of using a Telnet proxy to spoof a DLA address and access the Internet service provider's Web site in Washington state, destroying files, changing password files and installing several Trojan horse programs.

Company officials had to reinstall the computer's operating system and reconstruct all data files, halting services for four days and costing Zebra Marketing $30,000, according to the indictment.

In May, Iffih allegedly gained control of a NASA computer at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., via a user account, 'y0Uar3ownd,' that gave him root-level access to the computer.

Own language

NASA agent Kevin Reis, who helped investigate the break-in, determined that y0Uar3ownd was hacker-speak for 'you are owned.'

Iffih then accessed an Interior Department site and defaced the Web page with hacker graphics, prosecutors said.

Interior's attacker identified himself as 'DigiAlmty' and posted a note saying, 'It's our turn to hit them where it hurts. ' We'll keep hitting them 'til they get down on their knees and beg.'

The federal attacks were in retaliation for FBI raids on several prominent hackers, Justice officials said.

Federal investigators traced the computer attacks to Iffih's home in Boston by tracing IP addresses and correlating log information to determine the phone number from which the original connection had been made.

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