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Cyberattack disrupts operations of astronomical observatory in Chile


The ALMA astronomical observatory in Chile, hosting some of the most powerful radio telescopes in the world, suffered a cyberattack over the weekend. Some of its operations remain suspended.

“Last Saturday, October 29, at 06:14 a.m. (10:14 GMT), the ALMA observatory in Chile suffered a cyberattack on its computer systems,” the entity said on its Twitter account on Wednesday after two days of holidays in Chile.

ALMA also said the attack forced it to suspend “astronomical observations and its website” while its email services “are operating in a limited way.”

The observatory indicated that “given the nature of the episode, it is not yet possible to estimate a timeframe for the return to regular activities,” while observatory specialists continued to work to restore the affected operations. The threat “has been contained,” though.

“The attack did not compromise ALMA’s antennas or any scientific data,” said ALMA, which is a joint venture between partners from Europe, the United States, and Japan, in cooperation with Chile.

The Large Atacama Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) has 66 antennas located more than 5,000 meters high on the Chajnantor plain in the Atacama desert. The complex, which began exploring the universe in 2011, collaborated last April on discovering the most distant galaxy ever detected, located 13.5 billion light years away.

So far, no group of hackers has claimed responsibility for the attack on the ALMA observatory.

Three hundred professionals work at ALMA, 40 of them computer engineers and technicians who manage the powerful computers, servers, storage centers, and screens.

The Atacama desert concentrates astronomical observations in northern Chile thanks to brilliant night observation conditions, a clean atmosphere, little rain, and low humidity during most days of the year.

It’s not the first time hackers have been targeting telescopes. Security analytics firm Securonix revealed in August that hackers had hidden malware code in a copy of an image from the Webb Space Telescope.

This particular hack involved a phishing email, a phony Microsoft Office attachment, and SMACS 0723, the first full-color image from the Webb Space Telescope, unveiled earlier this summer.


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