Niwa supercomputer hacked

INSIDE THE MIND: Niwa's super computer.

INSIDE THE MIND: Niwa's super computer.

A $12.7 million supercomputer owned by Niwa has been targeted by a computer hacker believed to have come from China.

The computer, known as FitzRoy, is housed in a specially constructed room at the National Institute for Water and Atmospheric Research base at Greta Point, Wellington.

Niwa chief executive John Morgan confirmed yesterday that FitzRoy was accessed by "an unauthorised person" overnight on Thursday.

"We immediately isolated the supercomputer, and switched functionality to back-up facilities in Hamilton," he said.

Technicians were working last night to restore the system.

"We are . . . confident the intruder did not get beyond the supercomputer."

Niwa was working with the National Cyber Security Centreand IBM to ensure the computer was absolutely clean before re-establishing service, he said.

The Dominion Post understands the cyber attack originated from China, though Niwa could not confirm this yesterday.

Installed in 2010 at a cost of $12.7m, FitzRoy has 100 times the power of Niwa's old supercomputer, and is equivalent to about 7000 laptops working simultaneously.

The system can supply information on future severe weather, as well as greater world issues such as climate change.

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It weighs a hefty 18 tonnes - the floor had to be strengthened to hold its weight.

The supercomputer is one of the most powerful computers in the world for use in environmental research and forecasting.

Morgan said it was used to run scientific models and services, and no sensitive, personal or client information was held on it.

A spokeswoman for Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce said he was told of the hacking yesterday and was expecting a full report from Niwa over the weekend.

This week five members of the Chinese military were charged with hacking into American companies to steal industrial secrets, including design details from a nuclear power plant.

The first criminal charges brought against a foreign power for cyber attacks were revealed by US attorney-general Eric Holder, who said that the alleged hacking was aimed at giving Chinese firms an advantage over US businesses.

"The range of trade secrets and other sensitive business information stolen in this case is significant and demands an aggressive response," he said. 

 - © Fairfax NZ News

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