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European Space Agency plays down hack impact

Crucial alien files remain nonexistent

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The European Space Agency has confirmed that a hacker breached its network over the weekend, while playing down the significance of the hack.

TinKode posted admin, content management and file upload (FTP) login credentials on Sunday after pulling off the attack on the space agency. The hacker also posted Apache server configuration files.

However, the servers hit by the hack included less sensitive systems involved in sharing scientific data between the ESA and its partners, an ESA spokesman explained. "The main website was not affected and this has had no effect at all on our internal network," he told El Reg.

The ESA has responded to the attack by taking its FTP servers offline and resetting all login credentials. Users have been informed of the incident, a necessary step, especially if some are making the mistake of using the same user name and password combination over multiple sites.

The file transfer servers affected by the hack were involved in the exchange of astronomical data, such as satellite-source ice-shelf thickness readings. "Although this breach affected only publicly available FTP servers, it's not good that it happened and we'll be tightening up security," the ESA spokesman explained.

The servers will not go online again until security checks are completed, a process likely to take "some days". Meanwhile, the scientific work of the agency will continue, largely unaffected by the assault.

The ESA is withholding details on how the attack was carried out. The motive behind the attack also remains unclear, although claiming bragging rights seems the most likely explanation. TinKode previously mounted a similar attack against Royal Navy systems last year.

The space agency said the hacker had not contacted it either before or since the attack. ®

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