Dramatically illustrating the security problems posed by the rapid growth of the Internet computer network, one of the nation's three nuclear weapons labs confirmed yesterday that computer hackers were using its computers to store and distribute hard-core pornography.
Embarrassed officials at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, Calif., which conducts a great deal of classified research and has highly sophisticated security procedures, said the incident was among the most serious breaches of computer security ever at the lab east of San Francisco.
The offending computer, which was shut down after a Los Angeles Times reporter investigating Internet hacking alerted lab officials, contained more than 1,000 pornographic images.
Officials said yesterday that they believe at least one lab employee was involved in the pornography ring.
One computer expert, who requested anonymity, said there might be more to the incident than meets the eye. The expert suggested that the hard-core pornography may be a cover for an ultra-sophisticated espionage program, in which a "sniffer" program combs through other Livermore computers, encodes the passwords and accounts it finds, then hides them within the pornographic images, perhaps to be downloaded later by foreign agents.
But Chuck Cole, a lab official, said there was no possibility of a computer intruder gaining access to classified data at Livermore Labs.