Swedish Hacker Indicted in Cisco, NASA Attacks

May 6, 2009



WASHINGTON -- A Swedish computer hacker was indicted Tuesday for breaking into the networks of tech-gear maker Cisco Systems Inc. and high-end computing equipment at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

The attacks underscore the development of a vast underground economy that targets both the private sector and the government.

Hacking under the nom de guerre "Stakkato," Philip Gabriel Pettersson was a teenager when he penetrated the systems five years ago. He is now 21 years old and faces charges in a five-count indictment of illegally damaging computer networks and theft of trade secrets.

Mr. Pettersson broke into Cisco's networks around May 12, 2004, to steal trade secrets, according to the indictment. The data stolen were part of the playbook for its router systems, known as "source code" for the company's Internetwork Operating System. The operating system is a cornerstone technology for the San Jose, Calif.-based company that is a common thread through many of its products. Cisco "used reasonable measures" to protect its code, the indictment says.

A week later, according to the indictment, Mr. Pettersson compromised NASA's Advanced Supercomputing division and its Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley. Ames is NASA's computer-research nerve center, which plays a critical role in "virtually all NASA missions in support of America's space and aeronautics programs," according to the indictment.

After the incident, "Cisco reported that it did not believe that any customer information, partner information or financial systems were affected," according to the indictment. Both Cisco and NASA have been cooperating with the investigation, the Justice Department said in a statement accompanying the indictment.

A Cisco spokesperson declined to comment because the matter is under investigation. "We appreciate the efforts of law enforcement and the U.S. Attorney's office in this case and will continue to offer them our full cooperation," the company said in a statement.

NASA officials in Washington, D.C., and California couldn't be reached for comment. Mr. Pettersson couldn't be located for comment.

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