Home U.S. government lets hackers break into satellite in space

U.S. government lets hackers break into satellite in space

Aug 14 — A group of hackers in the Southwestern United States launched a blitzkrieg of cyber attacks against a U.S government-owned satellite on Friday and it’s exactly what the Pentagon wanted.

A first-ever sanctioned attempt to break into a live, orbiting satellite, the U.S. Air Force and Space Force intend for the effort to help them develop more secure space systems and to identify unknown security weaknesses.

Satellite hacking 

The satellite hackers were organized into five competing teams at the DEF CON cyber security conference in Las Vegas. Tasked with remotely seizing control of Space Force satellite Moonlighter, the event reflected the growing cyber grey zone and geopolitical perils that nations face.

The approved hacking groups aimed to remotely seize control of Space Force satellite Moonlighter, which is currently spinning in the Earth’s low orbit at a speed of roughly five miles per second.

Need for speed

According to a previously classified intelligence report, which an Air guardsman leaked earlier this year, China is developing capabilities to “deny, exploit or hijack” enemy satellites.

Evidence shows that U.S. satellite disruption by foreign nations has already occurred. In 2018, cyber adversaries pursued an unidentified company’s satellite communications operator and seemed interested in both spying on and gaining control over the satellites.

Russia has also advanced its satellite-hacking capabilities, having recently deployed malware that infiltrated a satellite network belonging to a telecommunications company and temporarily taking as many as 45,000 modems offline.

Bringing in the brightest

In the minds of DEF CON’s “Hack-A-Sat” organizers, the best way to address the satellite cyber security problem is challenge the best and the brightest to find security issues and vulnerabilities.

Says Space Force Capt. Kevin Bernert, “We don’t want to just be a big, monolithic organization.” Rather, the agency wants to “…get as many people smartly involved,” recognizing the need to bake in cyber security, rather than bolting it on.

Hacking teams managed to take several photos from space, which can be seen here. Lastly, to receive more timely cyber security news, insights and cutting-edge analyses, please sign up for the cybertalk.org newsletter.