WASHINGTON -- Hackers have been breaking into an unclassified worldwide computer network that contains data on research in the space and earth sciences.

So far the 100,000 scientists who are linked to the Space Physics Analysis Network (SPAN) are lucky: The unauthorized access hasn't been malicious, and no files have been altered. But a recent government report to Congress chides NASA for not doing enough to protect the integrity of the system. It takes the agency to task for its failure to conduct a thorough analysis of the potential risks to the data in the system.

In response, NASA officials say that they are worried any preventive measures could be worse than the disease. Restrictions on users, they say, could rob the network of the accessibility that has made it so convenient for scientists. The dispute is one aspect of the larger issue of whether the access that computer users...

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