Can hackers turn satellites into weapons?

Currently, in space, there are many satellites of different countries operating. Whether transmitting TV signals or making phone calls around the world or feeding the Global Positioning System (GPS) information where we are and where we are going, they are vital to our lives. modern living.

Can hackers turn satellites into weapons?

The sci-fi blockbuster Gravity highlighted the dangerous environment in which these vital satellites operate, with tens of thousands of kilograms of space junk orbiting low Earth orbit at speeds of 27,000 km/h. , threatening to destroy anything they come into contact with.

With companies like SpaceX promising to launch around 42,000 satellites into space over the next decade to provide internet globally, this space environment is likely to become increasingly cramped, especially with Amazon also intends to put their own devices into orbit.

They have the potential to transform a wide range of everyday tasks, and with so many connected devices on which we increasingly depend, the threat of cyberattacks is growing.

War in space

Whether a Hacker does something ‘relatively’ trivial like shutting down a device or using a satellite as a rocket to take down a larger target (or even the International Space Station!), it’s risky. Security is great. Key infrastructure, including transport systems and the power grid, could be paralyzed.

So what is the probability of a cyber attack on a satellite? Many satellites in orbit today use advanced technology to try and make sure costs are kept as low as possible. Consistent use of these components makes it easy for hackers to investigate them for potential vulnerabilities.

The array also has many users of open-source technology, which could help attackers insert backdoors into the very software used to control and operate the satellites. Furthermore, these devices are often manufactured using components from many suppliers, with many companies even involved in launching devices into space and participating in their operation as they go. in orbit. So each company provides a potential attack method for hackers.

Satellite Hacking

Breaking into CubeSats devices that are instrumental in the global satellite network can often be accomplished by as simple as downloading malicious commands through a ground antenna.

Most satellites are operated from a ground station, all running software with multiple vulnerabilities that can be exploited. Once gained control of these devices, hackers can send malicious commands to satellites under the command of the station.

Such events have occurred in the past, most notably in 1998 when an American/German satellite was hacked after attackers hacked into the computer at Goddard Space Flight Center. . Hackers manipulated solar panels so that they face the sun directly, damaging the satellite’s panel and rendering it inoperable.

Similarly, in 1999, Reuters reported that a ransomware attack was carried out on the British SkyNet satellite, after Hackers took control of the device. The story was denied by the British military, but the incident nonetheless highlights the risks involved in securing hardware. Recently, such attacks have taken place under the aegis of the state, with attackers with links to both the Chinese and Iranian governments targeting satellite operators.

The problem of network security is left unattended

The problem is further complicated by the lack of any regulation regarding the network security of satellite infrastructure. This often results in the responsibility being delegated to individual companies, who may not be able to implement a fully coordinated process to ensure the entire network remains secure.

As private companies, such as Virgin and SpaceX, enter the space industry, they have also cut back on some investments in areas such as cybersecurity, leaving satellite management networks vulnerable to attacks. than normal.

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