The Cats Trying to Kill Curiosity

I was delighted, as were millions, by the successful touchdown of the Curiosity rover on the surface of Mars.  It was a monumental achievement, of equipment working right (thanks to tremendous engineering and science) despite nearly a year’s exposure to extraordinary conditions and extremes in rapid succession. But as Sam Rayburn (48th, 50th, and 52nd Speaker of the House) notes, “Any jackass can kick down a barn. It takes a good carpenter to build one.” We’ve seen NASA in the role of “good carpenters” here. Who’s the “jackass”?

It seems that the role of “jackass” is being played by the hacker group Anonymous, potentially. An intercepted message on an Anonymous IRC channel seemed to be gathering forces to take over the spacecraft:

MarsCuriosity: Anyone in Madrid, Spain or Canbarra who can help isolate the huge control signal used for the Mars Odyssey / Curiosity system please? The cypher and hopping is a standard mode, just need base frequency and recordings/feed of the huge signal going out. (yes we can spoof it both directions!)

The article describing this issue noted that the above message might actually have originated with law enforcement. That is possible, of course, but rather foolish as it now has many Anonymous people thinking about the issue that might not have occurred to them before.

And the article (quoting another article at makes a rather foolish assertion at the bottom:

Finally, could anyone besides a government actor be able to pull off such a hack? Just think about the technology necessary to reach the Red Planet with a signal to hack Curiosity. It would seem to be beyond Anonymous.

An absurd notion. Anonymous does not have to build giant satellite uplink dishes. They simply need to feed their own signal into an existing stream of a satellite uplink dish to control equipment at the other end.  I have personally done this.

If they can pull this off, they can do anything with the craft including shutting it off, rendering it effectively dead and no longer of use to Earth science — knocking down the “barn” that took so much work to put in place.

===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle