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NASA computers
NASA’s computer servers include the Pleiades supercomputer network. (NASA Photo)

NASA says it is reviewing its network security processes and procedures after a computer break-in exposed Social Security numbers and other personal information about the space agency’s current and past employees.

The breach was discovered in October, and its full extent and impact has yet to be determined. NASA says it will provide identity protection services to all those who have potentially been affected.

NASA Watch, an independent website founded by former NASA employee Keith Cowing, first brought the incident to light in a posting on Tuesday that quoted an internal NASA memo. The memo suggests that agency employees who were hired, transferred or left NASA between July 2006 and October 2018 may be affected.

For what it’s worth, NASA’s computers have been targeted by intruders many times over the years. Recent incidents include a 2013 website defacement campaign by Brazilian activists and a monumental series of break-ins reported in 2011.

“The last two times there was a data breach I was directly affected since I am a former NASA civil servant even though I left the agency 25 years ago,” Cowing wrote today in a follow-up post.

In yet another posting, Cowing wrote that NASA’s record of compliance with federal regulations governing information technology and cybersecurity “has been pitiful.” He pointed to a scorecard from the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform that gave NASA a failing grade on meeting cybersecurity goals. (To be fair, NASA’s overall grade on information technology was an average “C.”)

In a statement, NASA said investigation of the latest security breach was a “top NASA priority.” Here’s the full statement, provided by email:

“On Oct. 23, 2018, NASA cybersecurity personnel began investigating the potential compromise of NASA servers. One of the servers contained personally identifiable information (PII) on current and past NASA employees and these data may have been exfiltrated. The agency will provide identity protection services to all potentially affected individuals.

“NASA does not believe that any agency missions were jeopardized by the intrusions.  Once discovered, NASA took immediate action to secure the impacted servers and has been working to perform a forensic analysis since then – this process will take time. The ongoing investigation is a top NASA priority.

“NASA takes cybersecurity very seriously and is committed to devoting the necessary resources to ensure the security of agency information and IT systems. The agency is continuing its efforts to secure all servers, and is reviewing its processes and procedures to ensure the latest security practices are followed throughout the agency.”

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