NASA, University Sites Hacked

Thursday, May 12, 2011 @ 05:05 PM gHale

Scammers hacked Web pages on high-profile websites, including those belonging to NASA and a group of universities.

One week away from a space shuttle launch, NASA has now removed dozens of Web pages that popped up on its Jet Propulsion Laboratory website. These pop ups promoted the purchase of low-cost versions of Adobe’s Creative Suite and other products.

The scammers loaded up the Web pages with links to other hacked pages.

Affected sites included those for NASA, Stanford University, Syracuse University and Northeastern University.

NASA had cleaned up its site Monday, but others, including Stanford, had not. Visitors to those sites could encounter the hacked pages even if they weren’t looking for cheap software.

Jane Platt, a spokeswoman for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said the NASA site was safe to visit, but she declined to comment on the hacking incident because NASA’s policy “is not to discuss security matters.”

Some of the sites seem to have been hacked so they pop up in the top results when Web surfers are looking for cheap Adobe software.

It looks like the scammers are trying to make money by generating Web traffic for online retailers, said Mary Landesman, a security researcher with Cisco’s ScanSafe group. On some of the sites, visitors who arrive following a Google search automatically go to online retailers.

Google awards a higher ranking to Web pages hosted on trusted, high-profile websites, so by hacking NASA and Stanford’s pages, the scammers can generate more traffic for their clients and earn themselves more money in referral fees, she said. “Someone searching for cheap Adobe products is more likely to get those results,” she said.

This type of search engine poisoning has been around for years. Hackers often use a Web hacking technique called SQL injection to break into websites, but they can also do this by stealing or guessing passwords.

With NASA set to launch the Space Shuttle Endeavor next week, a lot of people are visiting the space agency’s website.

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