Hackers Hit The World’s Largest Ground-Based Astronomical Project

Posted on November 6, 2022 at 8:10 AM

Hackers Hit The World’s Largest Ground-Based Astronomical Project

The Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) observatory in Chile has been hit in a hacking incident. Threat actors targeted the institution’s computer systems, which house the world’s largest and most advanced telescopes. Following the attack on its system, ALMA was forced to shut operations to the public.

ALMA Reveals That It Has Contained The Threat 

The observatory’s email services, consisting of a group of 66 radio telescopes, were also limited in their operations. ALMA has revealed that the threat was contained and there was no significant impact on its facilities.

 “The threat has been contained, and our specialists are working hard to restore affected systems,” the observatory tweeted, adding that the attack didn’t impact ALMA antennas or any scientific data.

Space researchers across the world using the facility may have had some disruptions in their activities, especially ALMA experts and those that rely on the telescope.

The ALMA is located on the Chajnantor Plateau of northern Chile. The location is highly significant for the role the antenna plays because low-frequency waves have the best signals when they are coming from high altitudes and in dry climates. These features are very important for researchers and scientists for accurate observation.

The observatory is collaborating with several multinational research institutes, including the European Southern Observatory. Additionally, it’s also a member of the global Event Horizon Telescope (ETH) network. The network has already executed a historic project as it was in charge of the first-ever image of a black hole three years ago.

Last year, ALMA reported that it detected what it felt was a moon-forming disc for the first time around the planet, outside the solar system.

The ETH partnership has also helped ALMA to carry out further research and make more discoveries. Earlier this year, the partners revealed the first-ever image of the supermassive black hole in the center of the Milky Way.

ALMA Is Still Down, But IT Experts Are Working To Restore Operations

In response to the recent hacking incident, ALMA said the investigation into the matter is still ongoing and it’s not yet possible to estimate a date for the resumption of regular activities. At the moment, the Observatory is still taking things cautiously, knowing that everything about the attack is not yet known.

It revealed in a tweet that although the hacking incident has been curtailed, it will keep observing its systems and network for any further intrusion. ALMA apologized for the obstruction of services caused by the hacking incident.  The observatory has already suspended all astronomical observation operations after taking its public website offline. The attack took place on Saturday, October 29, 2022.

IT specialists are working toward restoring the entire system, as email services at the observatory are still limited. The organization informed the public about the hacking incident on Twitter Yesterday.

ALMA was developed in collaboration with multi-national efforts from South Korea, the United States, Japan, Taiwan, Europe, Canada, Chile, and Taiwan.

The project started its operations officially in 2013. Since then, it has helped the pioneering of comet and planetary formation studies. It has also detected the biomarker “phosphone” in the atmosphere of Venus.

The observatory is used by scientists of the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, the European Southern Observatory, the National Science Foundation, and other groups from around the world. This means that any disruption in its operation will impact several science teams as well as ongoing projects.

The Intrusion Will Affect Thousands Of Astronomers

Users have been advised to stay alert for status updates on ALMA Observatory’s social media channels of on NRAO’s website.

Thousands of astronomers worldwide depend on ALMA’s observations as well as some 300 experts working onsite.

The importance of its services will be felt for the time it will be offline. It is invaluable in the observation of the light of the cooler substances of the cosmos, namely dust and gas. That’s why scientists choose ALMA when they observe the fascinating formations of stars and planets when they first appear amidst clouds of gas.

Since its operations began almost a decade ago, the observatory has become the largest ground-based astronomical project in the world, according to the European Southern Observatory.

While ALMA has asked users to be expecting updates from its findings, there is no information available linking the attack to a particular threat actor. Also, it’s not yet known how the attack was conducted or the motivations behind the attack.

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