Why Attack a Telescope?

Image (Credit): The ALMA antennas on the Chajnantor Plateau in northern Chile. (ESO)

A recent Phyls.org article, “Chile’s ALMA Observatory Resumes Work After Cyberattack,” discusses a recent hacking incident at the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA). The telescope was offline for about two months after the attack.

The ALMA telescope in northern Chile is a key asset in the search for early galaxies with its 66 antennas spread over 10 miles. Why would someone want to attack it?

In November, a researcher with Global Security Mag stated:

When it comes to a cyber attack in the space industry, this has an added level of danger as future travel missions could be left in danger of being hi-jacked – with hackers having the potential to cause inter-space collisions and destroy communication systems, for example, should they be able to penetrate mission-critical, earth-based systems.

While the articles I read on this attack did not discuss the motive or possible attacker, it’s essential this matter be thoroughly investigated and used as an example to harden other scientific locations. We have made too much progress in astronomy for it to derailed by these outside parties.