Modern field guide to security and privacy

NASA: Alleged plane hacker's boast about breaching space station 'laughable'

The FBI is reportedly investigating security researcher Chris Roberts for his claims he hacked into an airplane mid-flight. He denies those allegations. But what about his claims that he hacked the International Space Station?

Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti sips espresso from a cup designed for use in zero-gravity, on the International Space Station.

Security researcher Chris Roberts is no stranger to controversy.

The founder of the cybersecurity firm One World Labs made headlines this week with the release of an affidavit from the FBI that alleged he boasted about hacking a plane mid-flight and forced it to briefly fly sideways. Mr. Roberts has denied that he ever made that claim. But it wouldn't have been the first bold assertion he has made about his hacking targets. One boast that he can't deny – because it was caught on tape – is that he breached the International Space Station. 

A NASA spokesman on Wednesday told Passcode this claim was "laughable."

Ars Technica reporter Dan Goodin uncovered the video of Roberts giving a talk in 2012 where he discusses airplane security. During the question and answer period, Roberts said he hacked the space station and altered its temperature. “We got yelled at by NASA,” he says. “If they're going to leave open [a system] that's not encrypted that's their own ... silly fault.”

The talk was given at the 2012 GrrCON Information Security Summit & Hacker Conference, where Roberts is scheduled to speak again this year. The conference site says that his “[s]ubject matter [will] be determined by the number of federal agents present in the audience”.

Yet NASA's Dan Huot said that Roberts never hacked the space station – and no one else has either. “It’s never happened,” he says. “We have a lot of controls in place to prevent it.”

Mr. Huot says hacking the space station would be near impossible. Neither the on-board networks that control the station, nor the systems that control it from mission control centers in Houston and Moscow can be accessed off site. Those systems are not connected to the Internet, says Huot. He also says that penalties for hacking a space station would be stiffer than being "yelled at" by the agency. 

The International Space Station, which was launched in 1998, has offered separate Internet access to astronauts since 2010.

Mr. Roberts did not respond to requests for comment.

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