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Hackers Force Shutdown of Two Key Astronomical Observatories

Security Breach: Hackers Compel Shutdown of Critical Astronomical Observatories.

Image Source: ESO/José Francisco Salgado (

The realm of astronomy has once again been shadowed by the threat of cyberattacks, as several prominent observatories have recently reported being targeted.

One of the affected institutions, the National Science Foundation’s National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory (NOIRLab), revealed that it fell victim to a cybersecurity incident on August 1.

As a result, NOIRLab had to suspend operations at its Gemini North Telescope in Hawaii temporarily and the Gemini South Telescope in Chile. Even some smaller telescopes located at Cerro Tololo in Chile were not immune to the cyber assault.

In response to these events, NOIRLab has engaged cybersecurity experts to address the breaches and work towards restoring normal operations. The investigation into the nature and origin of these attacks is still ongoing, which has led to a cautious approach in disclosing information. The organization remains committed to upholding transparency while ensuring the safeguarding of its infrastructure.

The timing of these cyberattacks is noteworthy, occurring shortly before the United States National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC) issued a bulletin that alerted American space companies and research organizations about the looming threat of cyberattacks and espionage.

The bulletin highlighted the attraction of the commercial space industry to foreign spies and hackers, given its importance to the U.S. economy and national security. The bulletin underscored the vulnerabilities arising from the increasing reliance on space-based assets and emphasized the potential for adversaries to exploit U.S. space-related innovations and technologies.

The incidents at NOIRLab echo previous instances where astronomical observatories have faced cyber threats. In October 2022, hackers disrupted operations at the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has experienced cyberattacks over several years. Notably, NASA was impacted by the widespread SolarWinds breach in 2021, which served as a significant wake-up call for the agency’s cybersecurity measures.

The recurring cyberattacks on astronomical institutions highlight the need for enhanced cybersecurity across the space and research sectors. As technology and data play an increasingly pivotal role in these domains, protecting sensitive information and ensuring the uninterrupted functioning of critical facilities remains paramount. Addressing these challenges is crucial for maintaining the integrity of research, innovation, and the security of both national and global interests in space exploration.

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