Space hacking

For cybergeeks bored with interrupting ecommerce on America On-Line and, NASA may soon be making possible an even loftier goal: hacking satellites.

NEW SCIENTIST reports that NASA has commissioned the British company Surrey Satellite Technology to research the use of Internet technology to control satellites. Last week, the company launched an experimental satellite — believed to be the first to be controlled via the Internet — from a base in Russia. Internet-guided satellites would be cheaper, and would allow operators to access their spacecraft from any PC at any time.

But it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that NASA operators might not be the only ones with access to the satellites — any adept hacker could conceivably take control of a satellite from his bedroom. NASA itself recently admitted its vulnerability: Last week, the space agency acknowledged that a hacker was able to overload its computers and interrupt communication on a space shuttle mission in 1997. NASA says it has recorded about 500,000 attempted hacks in the past year alone.