Japan's space agency hit by malware for second time in a year

Epsilon rocket programme details reportedly breached

Japan's Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has reportedly suffered its second major malware incident in under a year after an attack that has resulted in the leaking of details of the country's top-secret Epsilon rocket programme.

According to unconfirmed reports, on 21 November JAXA discovered an unidentified data-stealing "virus" on a computer at the Tsukuba Space Centre used to store details of the country's prestigious solid fuel rocket programme.

No further malware was found on nearby systems, officials reported, which has raised the question of whether this was a conventional malware attack or something more targeted.

If it is a conventional attack, it would be a remarkable coincidence.

Japanese Government agencies have suffered an embarrassing string of attacks in the last three years, but the most obvious precedent is a Trojan attack that affected JAXA itself as recently as January 2012.

In that attack, attackers compromised data relating to the H-II 'Konotori' space vehicle used to supply the International Space Station (ISS), about as embarrassing an outcome as it is possible to imagine for a national space programme with global ambitions.

News of a second breach won't go down well with the country's prospective partners. Due for launch in 2013, The Epsilon programme includes the M-5, H2A and H2B rockets.

The chief suspect for the attacks will be China, a country that has in the past been quietly blamed for a string of attacks on politicians, the country's Parliament, and a range of defence and infrastructure companies since 2010.

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