Bagel, Netsky Worms Take Down Martian Rovers
HOUSTON, TX (SP) — Terrestrial email users are not the only ones to be affected by the rampaging internet worms "Bagel" and "Netsky" over the past few weeks. NASA's Martian rover Spirit yesterday received an email with the subject "Re: your picture" and opened the attachment before NASA Ground Control could stop it. Within minutes, the rover had sent infected emails to every address in the craft's address book.
Running Microsoft Windows XP, Spacecraft Edition, Spirit is believed to have fallen prey to the Bagel internet worm. The rover's address book contained addresses of most of NASA's staff in the "nasa.gov" domain, as well as those of many officers in the Air Force's "af.mil". NASA confirmed that a "significant" number of its staff had already received suspicious emails from Spirit, but said that they had been instructed to treat any attachments with "extreme caution".
Among the email addresses was that of NASA's second rover, Opportunity, which was also firing off emails. Technicians believe, however, that Opportunity's infection was not as a result of receiving Spirit's email, but rather of independently receiving an infected email containing the Netsky.D worm from one of NASA's mission control computers infected the previous day.
The flood of Martian email continued for several hours, and then stopped suddenly. The only image the rovers have been transmitting since then is the Blue Screen of Death.
Above: images of dusty red have been replaced by a striking blue
However, scientists from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) have managed to exploit several vulnerabilities within Microsoft's "space age" operating system to open a backdoor into the crippled rovers, through which they hope to be able to reboot the rovers' systems.
"Of course, now that we've demonstrated the vulnerability, we'll have to issue a security patch immediately," said Mike Rowe, NASA's Microsoft liaison.
It is unknown whether Spirit and Opportunity are configured to accept such a patch.
"We turned off the Automatic Update during testing because those reminders can get pretty annoying after a while," said Rowe. "But we can't remember if we turned it back on before lift-off."
The potential dilemma might have been avoided had Spirit and Opportunity been outfitted with the latest version of KaZaA, a peer-to-peer file-sharing application, which would have allowed the rovers to exchange the latest software between each other. However, a last minute injunction by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) prevented NASA from installing the popular program.
The RIAA was acting on behalf of Casio, an international electronics firm, which owns the rights to the series of auditory tones used by the Martian landers to indicate each successful stage of descent.