A Romanian computer expert was indicted Thursday by a federal grand jury in Los Angeles for allegedly hacking into more than 150 computers used by NASA, the Department of Energy and the U.S. Navy.
The 10-count indictment accuses Victor Faur, 26, of Arad, Romania, of conspiracy, unauthorized access to government computers and intentional damage to computers during a two-year period that ended last month.
The apparent goal of Faur and his hacking group, known as the "WhiteHat Team," was to flaunt their ability to access some of the government's most sensitive computer systems. Time after time, the indictment alleges, Faur used a computer program to cycle through millions of possible user names and password combinations until he gained access to the computers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Goddard Space Flight Center, Sandia National Laboratory and the U.S. Naval Observatory.
Faur then would intentionally impair the integrity and availability of information on the computers, gaining "high-level access" that would give him the names and passwords of authorized users of the system.
Faur also would download computer programs onto the compromised computers so they could be used as hosts for online "chat rooms" with others in the group, according to the indictment.
It adds that Faur and the others chose the computer targets because NASA "has the reputation as being the most secure information system on the Internet, along with other military and [U.S.] government sites."
During their yearlong investigation, authorities concluded that the computer intrusions and resulting loss of scientific data cost NASA nearly $1.4 million in losses, while the Navy and Energy Department combined suffered $100,000 in losses.
"He infected so many computers," said Assistant U.S. Atty. Brian Hoffstadt. "And while the dollar loss may be somewhat low, it doesn't capture the fact that the computers that had to be taken out of service and repaired were collecting and analyzing scientific data that cannot be replaced."
Faur already had been arrested by Romanian authorities in a similar computer hacking case, Hoffstadt said.
If convicted in the U.S., Faur faces a maximum prison sentence of 54 years.
"The fact he is facing that much time in prison is an indication of how seriously we take this case," said Hoffstadt.