In Need of Secret Access to US Gov't Supercomputers? Pay $50,000

Andrew James Miller was indicted after he allegedly tried to sell access to two U.S. government supercomputers to an undercover FBI agent.
By Jeremy Kirk
News Jun 15th 2012

A grand jury indictment unsealed against a 23-year-old American man highlights the extent to which U.S. government computer networks are under siege.

Andrew James Miller, of Devon, Pennsylvania, was arrested on Thursday morning on charges that he tried to sell secret access to two U.S. government supercomputers for US$50,000 to an undercover FBI agent.

The supercomputers belong to the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC), which provides high-performance computing for research projects approved by the Department of Energy. 

Its computers are some of the most powerful in the world, such as the "Hopper," a Cray XE6 that ranked #5 in a list of the top 500 supercomputers in the world in 2010, and Carver, described as an IBM iDataPlex Linux cluster with 3,200 compute cores.

By its own admission, NERSC is a ripe target for hackers. "Both because of our unique computing resources, and simply because we are a government institution, attackers target NERSC systems. In particular, smart attackers who have time and resources have been known to target our systems," according to the organization's website.

NERSC supports some 4,000 user-accounts within the U.S. and internationally. But users are not supposed to store classified or national security related information, including any nuclear weapons-related data.

The indictment said that Miller and an as-of-yet unindicted co-conspirator nicknamed "Intel" chatted online with an undercover FBI agent on April 16, 2011. The two were part of a hacking group known as the "Underground Intelligence Agency."