Virus Infects Space Station Laptops (Again)

Viruses intended to steal passwords and send them to a remote server infected laptops in the Space Station in July, NASA confirmed Tuesday.

And according to NASA, this wasn't the first infection.

"This is not the first time we have had a worm or a virus," NASA spokesman Kelly Humphries said. "It's not a frequent occurrence, but this isn't the first time."

That suggests that even in the future where space travel becomes an experience to complain about, rather than get dressed up for, computer viruses will still be tagging along uninvited.

NASA downplayed the news, calling the virus mainly a "nuisance" that was on non-critical space station laptops used for things like e-mail and nutritional experiments.

NASA and its partners in the space station are now trying to figure out how the virus made it onboard and how to prevent that in the future, according to Humphries.

NASA declined to name the virus, but SpaceRef.com, which broke the story, reported that the worm was W32.Gammima.AG worm -- a worm first detected in August 2007 that installs software that steals credentials for online games.

The virus did make it onto more than one laptop -- suggesting that it spread via some sort of intranet on the space station or via a thumb drive.

Humphries did not know when the laptops entered the space station or what country bought them, though he did indicate that the hardened equipment on the space station was typically purchased by Russia or the United States.

The International Space Station has no direct internet access, but astronauts can send and receive mail though a KU band data link also used for data and video transfer, according to Humphries.

That means the space station laptops are not connected to the net, according to Humphries.

"Everything is scanned before it goes up, so it's an indirect connection," Humphries said.

As for whether mission critical systems are connected to the same network as these kinds of laptops? "I don't know and even if I did, I wouldn't be able to tell you for IT security reasons," Humphries said.

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