Get A Quote
Written by Cyber Threat Intelligence Unit on 30 August 2023

Stay Informed: Cyber Risk at Hawaii & Chile Telescopes

Estimated reading time is approximately 4-5 minutes.



In an era dominated by news cosmic discoveries and lunar exploration, a different kind of headline has recently captured our attention.

This coordinated cyberattack briefly halted ground-based observation. This unexpected incident unfolded in two captivating locations: the telescopes in Hawaii and Chile.

Let’s dive into the details of this cyber event and explore its far-reaching implications for the world of astronomy.

The Attack and its Ripple Effects

On August 1st, an alarming development surfaced—the remote connections of ten telescopes to prominent NSF - National Science Foundation space telescopes worldwide suddenly went offline. This sudden disruption rendered remote control of these instruments impossible, temporarily freezing vital functions and disrupting essential observations.

The orchestrators of this attack managed to paralyze these telescopes, thereby bringing a temporary halt to the valuable insights they provide about our universe. The profound implications of this interruption extend beyond the technology itself.

Insight from the National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory NOIRLab

The National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory (NOIRLab), responsible for coordinating ground-based astronomy efforts, released a statement on August 24 to illuminate the situation. According to the press release, the attack affected telescopes, including Gemini North in Hilo, Hawaii, South telescopes, and smaller counterparts on Cerro Tololo in Chile. The official website and the observatory's email services also suffered from the repercussions. In response, NOIRLab immediately disconnected its computer network from the Mid-Scale Observatories (MSO) network on Cerro Tololo and Cerro Pachón in Chile.

Unveiling Motivations and State Involvement

The motive behind this cyberattack remains uncertain, yet its coordinated nature has raised suspicions about potential state-sponsored involvement. Although financial gain is not the primary motivation, the strategic and systematic execution hints at a more profound purpose that transcends typical cybercriminal objectives.

Putting the Attack into Context

This recent event is not the first instance of its kind targeting astronomical facilities. In October 2022, the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) Observatory in Chile suffered a ransomware attack that left the observatory offline for an extended period. This incident underscored the vulnerabilities within the cybersecurity infrastructure protecting these critical installations. The struggles faced by the ALMA Observatory highlighted the pressing need to bolster cybersecurity measures and ensure the uninterrupted pursuit of unraveling the universe's mysteries.

Beyond Cybersecurity: Societal Implications

Interestingly, this attack serves as a reminder of the broader challenges that astronomical endeavors can present. In Hawaii, for instance, constructing a new telescope has sparked considerable opposition from local communities. Protesters have voiced their concerns and view the telescope's construction threatening their indigenous land. This scenario echoes past instances where telescopes encountered resistance due to their perceived impact on sacred ground and cultural heritage.

Key Takeaways and Moving Forward

The aftermath of the recent cyberattack offers several crucial lessons, emphasizing the need to address vulnerabilities head-on:

  1. Elevating Cybersecurity Measures: The incident underscores the urgency of strengthening cybersecurity measures. The protection of scientific progress requires resilient defense mechanisms against sophisticated cyber threats.
  2. Embracing Global Collaboration: The attack's far-reaching consequences underscore the significance of global cooperation. Collaborative efforts in sharing expertise and intelligence can bolster the defense against cyber threats targeting scientific institutions.
  3. Balancing Progress and Cultural Sensitivity: The protests in Hawaii emphasize the importance of harmonizing technological advancements with cultural sensitivities. Future projects should consider both cultural and environmental implications.
  4. Recognizing State-Sponsored Threats: The potential involvement of state actors highlights the evolving landscape of cyber threats. Maintaining vigilance and preparedness is essential to stay ahead of evolving risks.
  5. Preserving Scientific Pursuits: The attack's broader implications remind us that scientific pursuits intersect with societal, cultural, and ethical considerations. Navigating these aspects requires careful consideration.

In conclusion, the recent cyberattack is a poignant reminder that even the quest to comprehend the cosmos faces modern challenges. By fortifying cybersecurity defenses, fostering global collaboration, and respecting cultural nuances, humanity can persist in its voyage of discovery with resilience and accountability.


Find out more about Cyber Threat Intelligence

Related Posts