The attacks disconnected telescopes in Hawaii and Chile, preventing scientists from conducting research during critical observing periods.
A series of binoculars stopped working
The Terrestrial Astronomy Coordinating Center, known as NOIRLab, operated by the NSF, reported the cyberattack on 1 August. The Gemini North telescope in Hilo, Hawaii, operated by the International Gemini Observatory, was the first to be affected.
Thanks to the quick response of the NOIRLab cyber security team and the observatories, there was no physical damage to the Gemini observatory. However, the problem caused the Gemini North and Gemini South telescopes (located on the Cerro Pachón mountain in Chile) to stop working.
NOIRLab’s computer systems allow astronomers to remotely operate the various telescopes on the ground.
However, on 9 August, NOIRLab had to disconnect its computer network from the network of several observatories in Chile, affecting a series of telescopes.
This causes researchers to miss out on important observational opportunities, affecting international projects, doctoral theses and ongoing research.
less than two weeks
Cyber security experts are perplexed as to why binoculars were targeted in this attack.
Vaughn Welch, the retired leader of the NSF Center of Cyber Security, said it was possible the attacker was unaware he was targeting an astronomical observatory.
However, Louis Wellbanks, a postdoctoral researcher in astronomy at Arizona State University, emphasized that the phenomenon remains a challenge for astronomers.
According to Gautam Narayan, an astronomer at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, this is another warning for the astronomy community.
The longer telescopes are out of service, the more astronomers worry about the future of their projects.
NOIRLab Center refused to answer Trang’s question Science About whether the incident was a ransomware attack, in which the hackers demanded a ransom in exchange for information or control of the facility.
NOIRLab spokesperson told Trang only Science The centre’s IT staff are “working round the clock to get the telescope back in the sky”.