The indictment charges Victor Faur, 26, of Arad, Romania, with leading a hacking group called the "WhiteHat Team," according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney?s Office in Los Angeles. The group allegedly hacked into the government systems because of their reputation as some of the most secure in the world.
"After hacking into and taking control of the government computers, Faur allegedly caused the compromised machines to display screens that flaunted the computer intrusion," the U.S. Attorney's Office said.
Faur is charged with conspiracy and nine counts of computer intrusion. If convicted of all counts, he faces up to 54 years in federal prison, the prosecutors said.
However, a trial isn't likely to happen soon. Faur is currently in Romania, where he was arrested and then released on bond on separate, Romanian charges, Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Hoffstadt said in an interview.
"The next step for us is to seek extradition from the Romanian government," he said. There is an extradition treaty between the U.S. and Romania, but an extradition procedure can take up to two years. "It takes a long time," Hoffstadt said.
Computers that were compromised included machines at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Goddard Space Flight Center, the Sandia National Laboratory, and the U.S. Naval Observatory, according to prosecutors.
The breached computers were used to collect and process data from spacecraft. Because of the break-ins, systems had to be rebuilt and scientists and engineers had to manually communicate with spacecraft, resulting in $1.36 million in losses for NASA and nearly $100,000 in losses for the Energy Department and the Navy, prosecutors said.
Several suspected NASA hackers have been dealing with law enforcement recently. In Sweden, a teen suspected of hacking into systems belonging to the U.S. military, NASA and networking giant Cisco Systems . Earlier this year, London resident Gary McKinnonin his fight to avoid prosecution in the U.S.
No charges have been filed against any other suspected members of the WhiteHat Team, Hoffstadt said. "But the charges against Faur may not be the last charges," he said.