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Kiwis unplug supercomputer after intrusion

34 Tflops in hackers' hands

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Internet Security Threat Report 2014

New Zealand's National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) has deployed perhaps the ultimate security device - an RJ 45 plug's locking tab - to protect its 34 Tflops FitzRoy supercomputer after its security was breached.

The locking tab was employed after the $NZ12.7 million machine, installed in 2011, was reportedly breached last Thursday night, according to Fairfax.

NIWA's response was to take the machine off the Internet. NIWA CEO John Morgan hasn't had much else to say on the matter, other than the admission that “an unauthorised person” had accessed the system, leading to it being isolated, with users switched to a backup facility in the city of Hamilton.

Morgan said the organisation is confident that the attacker didn't manage to access anything other than the IBM System p575 POWER6 FitzRoy. Given its speciality is climate modelling, it doesn't contain sensitive personal data.

The break-in sparked a flurry of speculation about the source of the attack (China is cited without supporting evidence), the motivation (either to acquire logins that might be useful anywhere, which is plausible, or to jump across to other top-secret government facilities, which is less so), to steal climate modelling code (plausible), or to “establish a ‘botnet’ of supercomputers”.

The New Zealand government's science and innovation minister Stephen Joyce called for and expected delivery of a report on the matter over the weekend. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

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