No Stuxnet Infection, but Space Station is Vulnerable
Space Station Astronauts Log One Million Photographs
April 4, 2012 --
Two Russian spacecraft -- a Soyuz and Progress cargo ship -- hang above the Earth, docked to the International Space Station (ISS) while green wisps of auroral activity complete the scene. On any average day, this photograph would be a beautiful reminder of the serenity of space and the ingenuity of mankind. But this isn't any "average" photograph. This is the one millionth photograph taken by astronauts and cosmonauts on board our orbiting outpost. This photo, along with an understated tweet from NASA astronaut Don Pettit, was posted on March 27: "1 millionth ISS photo. Part of time lapse series. Not sure who took it, Dan Burbank or myself. We can't remember pic.twitter.com/MjnkRm2S". In an email to The Atlantic, astronaut Ron Garan explained the details behind this one-millionth photo: "Almost every photo of the Earth is taken in what little free time the crew has (in our off-duty time). The crew does that because it really is enjoyable to share the view of our Earth with the public and we understand that we have a responsibility to do that." As the space station's astronauts have become more connected with Earth via social media platforms like Twitter, some incredible shots of space and life aboard the ISS have been shared with the world. Here are a few of the Discovery News editors' favorites from the "first million ISS photos" we have featured on the site.
Credit: Ron Garan/NASA
The AMS During the final shuttle mission to the ISS, NASA spacewalker Ron Garan, took an exterior shot of the ISS and the recently delivered Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) in the foreground.
MORE: An Astronaut-Eye View of the Space Station
Credit: Ron Garan/NASA
15 Sunsets Every day, the astronauts aboard the ISS see 15 sunrises and 15 sunsets. Here's one sunset that Ron Garan witnessed in 2011.
MORE: An Awe-Inspiring Space Station Odyssey
Credit: NASA/JAXA/Soichi Noguchi
Endeavour Undocks, Leaves Cupola After installing new windows for the ISS -- the cupola pictured left -- shuttle Endeavour undocked and headed home in February 2010.
MORE: Endeavour Undocks, Begins Journey Home
Image credit: Soichi Noguchi/NASA
Making Space Music NASA's Stephen Robinson plays his guitar in the bay of the newly installed cupola in February 2010.
MORE: This Is What It's All About
Colorful Aurora As solar activity intensifies, ISS astronauts have a ringside seat of the stunning auroral displays in the Earth's atmosphere. This September 2011 technicolor display highlights the different atmospheric elements reacting to the bombardment of solar plasma.
MORE: Space Station Watches Technicolor Aurora Erupt
Snaking Aurora Another beautiful auroral scene captured by an ISS astronaut in June 2010 over the southern hemisphere. The green color is caused by the excitement of atmospheric oxygen.
MORE: Spectacular Aurora Ribbon Photographed by Astronaut
Space Meteor! In this stunning photograph by NASA astronaut Ron Garan, a single Perseid meteor was captured as the piece of comet dust slammed into the Earth's atmosphere in August 2011.
MORE: Astronaut Photographs Perseid Meteor... From Space
Comet Lovejoy On Dec. 21, 2011 NASA astronaut Dan Burbank photographed the dazzling comet Lovejoy as it hung above the Earth's horizon. This photo was taken only a few days after its close encounter with the sun. The green haze in the photo is known as "airglow."
MORE: Astronaut Photographs Comet Lovejoy... From Space
Hurricane Irene In August 2011, Hurricane Irene ravaged the U.S. East Coast. From their vantage point, astronauts aboard the ISS have an unparalleled view of our planet, so events like Irene can be closely monitored. It is for this reason why there is an extensive Earth observation program of which ISS astronauts have a large part to play.
MORE: Hurricane Irene from Space
Spacewalking NASA's spacewalking astronaut Mike Fossum points at the camera as he removes a failed ammonia pump module from the ISS during the final shuttle mission to the station in July 2011.
MORE: Inside Atlantis' Final Space Station Mission
Space Station Living There are a huge number of photographs of the Earth and space phenomena, but the collection also features an intimate perspective on life aboard a space station. NASA astronaut Sandy Magnus can be seen here floating inside the Raffaello multi-purpose logistics module among with months of ISS supplies during the final shuttle mission.
MORE: Inside Atlantis' Final Space Station Mission
To see more photographs from the space station and other manned NASA missions, be sure to browse the NASA Human Spaceflight gallery.
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The International Space Station has its own isolated network of computers that run everything from critical life support systems to scientific experiments. Just because its isolated from the veritable electronic ecosystem that is the terrestrial Internet, however, it doesn’t mean it’s safe from being attacked by malware or succumbing to a viral epidemic.
This was the ‘shocking’ revelation revealed by anti-virus guru Eugene Kaspersky at the Press Club in Canberra, Australia, earlier this month. During his presentation, the outspoken Russian businessman discussed the cyber threats to global security and economy.
The Kaspersky Lab founder discussed cyber crime, espionage and infrastructure attacks as the key elements of modern online security risks in descending frequency but ascending risk. He identified attacks on critical infrastructure as of most serious concern, despite there being only “2 or 3 a year.” He used the attack on the financial system in Seoul, South Korea, as one recent example, but other examples included attacks on Middle East oil companies and rumors of an attack on a Brazilian nuclear reactor.
Focusing on the Stuxnet virus — a malicious piece of code that was allegedly created by U.S. and Israeli programmers to attack Iranian nuclear reactors — Kaspersky outlined a few examples as to how the virus has spread beyond its intended target, inadvertently infecting an unnamed Russian nuclear reactor.
Stuxnet is designed to be spread indiscriminately via Microsoft Windows networks and can be manually uploaded to isolated critical systems by infected USB drives, for example. The worm then gets to work targeting specific Siemens industrial control systems that monitor industrial processes. By design, Stuxnet is focused on Iran’s suspected uranium enrichment infrastructure, but according to Kaspersky, Stuxnet has spread into the wilds of the Internet and started to attack nuclear reactor systems in other nations, including Russia.
However, he did not say that Stuxnet had infected the International Space Station, as some news outlets incorrectly assumed.
Using the International Space Station as an example of an isolated critical infrastructure, Kaspersky pointed out that despite being in space, it is still vulnerable to attack. In fact, on a number of occasions over the years the orbiting outpost’s computers have become infected by malware.
“Scientists, from time to time, are coming to space with USBs which are infected. I’m not kidding,” he said. “I was talking to Russian space guys and they said ‘yes, from time to time there are virus epidemics in the space station.’”
He added: “Unfortunately (critical infrastructure networks) are not safe by design.”
In 2008, the space station’s systems became infected by the harmless W32.Gammima.AG worm — a piece of software that gathers and transmits sensitive gaming data to an attacker. It’s thought the worm was carried into space via an infected flash drive.
Fortunately for astronauts and cosmonauts on the space station, in May this year, it was announced that computer systems would be migrated from the Windows XP operating system to a more secure GNU/Linux operating system, the latter of which is more resilient to accidental uploading of malicious software. This move alone would stamp out any worry of Stuxnet migrating into orbit and substantially reduce the risk of errant worms like W32.Gammima.AG setting up home.
While it’s highly debatable whether Stuxnet would have any undesirable effect on the space station (even if it did become infected, which it is not), Kaspersky has highlighted the need for keeping malicious software on the ground, while bulking up network security — a battle, it seems, we’re not winning.
Image: NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg works on computers at the space station’s robotics workstation. Fortunately, no Stuxnet virus is bundled in with the software. Credit: NASA