New Zealand’s 18-tonne supercomputer – was it hacked, or not?

There’s a storm brewing in New Zealand, it seems, after news that the supercomputer at NIWA, the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, was hacked.

Sadly, none of the stories we’ve seen so far have given any suggestion of what “hacked” is supposed to mean in this context.

But several news outlets have pointed out that the computer, known as FitzRoy, weighs in at 18 tonnes, needs a specially-reinforced floor, and is as powerful as 7000 laptops.

At least one report describes it as the most powerful supercomputer in the Southern Hemisphere, though NIWA’s own site modestly claims simply that it is “one of the most powerful.”

Apparently, the computer was disconnected from the internet as stories circulated that a certain foreign power was to blame.

Google’s search engine, for instance, turns up the following URL from New Zealand’s 3News:

That article takes you in turn to:

You’d have to guess that the word “probably” was added later, which may be just as well considering that 3News’s followup story is:

So it seems that FitzRoy was definitely, probably, hacked by China, unless it wasn’t actually hacked at all.

Perhaps there really was an intrusion, but the infiltrator didn’t stick around long?

That would hardly be surprising.

Imagine that you were a cybercrook, on the lookout for some insecure virtual machines for a bit of free malware hosting, or for some unprotected Twitter accounts for link spamming.

Instead, you arrived unexpectedly on an 18,000kg computing behemoth running weird and wonderful mathematical models.

You’d turn tail and flee, too, I reckon.

Anyway, reports are that FitzRoy is back online, so Kiwi weather forecasts will keep in shape.

(No “cloud” wordplay, please.)