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Malware slurps rocket data from Japanese space agency

Secrets of Epsilon go out the door

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Malware on a computer in the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has been stealing data on the latest Nipponese solid-fuel rocket system.

JAXA said that a security sweep of its systems on November 21 showed that a single computer had been subverted by the malware, and it was not clear if this was a targeted cyber-attack for espionage purposes. But data on Japan's Epsilon rocket system, which JAXA has spent ¥15bn developing, had been sent out of the organization to persons unknown.

The Epsilon program is building an advanced solid-fuel rocket that can further Japan's space-exploration and satellite industry. But unfortunately, governments around the world would also be interested in the technology for military purposes.

Solid-fuel rockets have a number of advantages over other designs. Liquid-fueled rockets don't make a good mobile-missile solution, and can't sit around long when fueled up since the liquids involved are highly corrosive. With solid fuel you can assemble the missile and it's ready to go whenever.

The first Epsilon rocket is close to takeoff, with the first launch scheduled for next summer. By this time almost all of the final testing will have been carried out, and if the attackers were interested in espionage, they may have got hold of some very valuable data indeed.

This is the second time JAXA has been hit in this way. In January the agency reported a similar malware data loss, that time for its H-II cargo transfer vehicle. ®

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