Japan space agency: Virus may have stolen space rocket data

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said an infected computer may have given up secrets on its long-range Epsilon rocket

Japan's space agency said Friday that sensitive information on a new long-range rocket project may have been stolen by a computer virus.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, said it found evidence that a single employee's computer was infected by a virus that collected information and transmitted it externally. The agency said it was still unclear what information had been sent, but the computer in question contained specifications and operation information on its Epsilon rocket program, as well as several related rockets.

An investigation into what information was leaked is underway, as well as whether other computers have also been infected. The employee reportedly worked at the agency's facilities in Tsukuba, northeast Tokyo.

JAXA said it detected a virus on the computer on Nov. 21 and immediately disconnected the computer from the network. The agency said that it carried out additional investigations and discovered on Wednesday that information had been leaked.

The Epsilon rocket is a three-stage rocket powerful enough to put heavy loads of up to 1,200kg into low earth orbit, and could be used for military purposes. It was meant to be a more advanced and lower cost version of Japan's existing rockets.

The rocket is unique both for its physical build and its newly designed launch system, which is meant to allow for remote system checks and launches from a laptop computer connected remotely over the Internet.

An initial launch using the new rocket is planned for next year, carrying a new space telescope.

JAXA apologized for the leak and said it will investigate further to determine what was leaked, as well as adopting stricter security to prevent other incidents.

In March, JAXA said it had concluded an investigation into a incident last year where an employee infected a computer with a virus by clicking on software sent in a targeted mail. That incident, which occurred in July 2011, resulted in the leak of non-secret image data as well as about 1,000 email addresses stored on the computer.

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