During one of the 13 successful hacking attacks against NASA during 2011, hackers were able to gain "full functional control" over computer systems according to a congressional hearing.
In November last year, NASA discovered that through a Chinese-based IP address, hackers broke into the organisation's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and gained full control of its computer systems. This made it possible for the attackers to copy, modify or delete files as well as create their own accounts for future use and easier access to the system.
Tracking down the individuals responsible has proved difficult, as the high level of access gained by the hackers allowed them to modify system logs, putting up a digital smokescreen to cover their actions.
This revelation was made by Paul Martin, NASA's inspector general, to a congressional panel. "Our review disclosed that the intruders had compromised the accounts of the most privileged JPL users, giving the intruders access to most of JPL's networks," he said.
As reported by the Telegraph, this was just one of 13 successful attempts by hackers made last year - all this despite the fact that NASA spends nearly $60 million on web based security.
As part of the congressional hearing, Mr Martin said that NASA needed to be far more vigilant in encrypting data on laptops and other mobile devices that could potentially be lost or stolen. This is a genuine concern, considering notebooks containing data on the International Space Station and other programmes have been lost in the past.