Feeling edgy that CERN’s Large Hadron Collider might swallow your precious world whole? The good news is your fear’s likely unfounded.
The bad news? The operative word here is likely.
Oh, and that less than an hour into the £4.4bn-project, hackers exposed its security vulnerabilities.
The group – calling themselves “GST: Greek SecurityTeam” - broke into an LHC computer, creating havoc and posting a rogue page on CERN’s website.
Before signing off with an eerie “We are 2600 – dont mess with us. (sic)”, the team damaged a single file, apparently to prove a point.
“There seems to be no harm done. From what they can tell, it was someone making the point that CMS was hackable,” said James Gillies, a spokesman for CERN. “It was quickly detected.”
All things considered, it could have gone a lot worse; the hackers were “one step away” from the computer control system in charge of one of the huge detectors of the machine – a giant magnet designed to track the fallout of the smashing “big bang” particles (one of LHC’s objectives).
Having access to the right files would have enabled them to turn parts of the detector off (the group apparently confined their efforts to the Compact Muon Solenoid Experiment).
CERN responded by removing public access to the site in question – cmsmon.cern.ch.
“We have several levels of network, a general access network and a much tighter network for sensitive things that operate the LHC,” said Gillies.
“We think that someone from Fermilab’s Tevatron (the competing atom smasher in America) had their access details compromised,” said one of the scientists working on the machine. “What happened wasn’t a big deal, just goes to show people are out there always on the prowl.”
CERN’s security strategy comprises of separating control networks, using firewalls and complex passwords. There are more than 110 different control systems at CERN, responsible for everything from running the experiments to radiation protection and safety.
Mounting an attack on the world’s biggest science project is surely no easy feat, but USBs, remote wireless access and laptops provide additional access points.
About the LHC
CERN’s reps, and physicists the world over have already spent countless interviews assuring the public that the LHC will not trigger a black hole, create earthquake and tsunamis.
Among other things, the LHC is supposed to recreate the impact of the Big Bang, shedding light on the origins of the universe. It is also supposed to tell us why and how some particles gain mass while others don’t, and reveal whether there are other dimensions we have yet to discover.
Don’t know much about the project? This following vid will bring you up to speed: