Hackers Target Satellites 

Hundreds of miles above Earth, thousands of satellites are orbiting the planet to keep the world running smoothly. Timing systems, GPS, and communications technologies are all powered by satellites. But for years, security researchers have warned that more needs to be done to secure the satellites against cyber attacks.

US intelligence agencies has now issued a warning about foreign spies targeting the American space industry as well as cyber attacks against the nation's satellite infrastructure.

The US Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) , along with the FBI, the National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC) and the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, has published a warning about increased attempts to attack both satellites in orbit and the intellectual property of companies developing space technologies. The NCSC lists a variety of ways that foreign intelligence agencies can gain access to the space industry in order to acquire access to expertise or new technologies. 

Some of the spying methods listed are seemingly innocuous, such as approaching space industry experts at conferences or contacting them through online forums to elicit information. Some of the methods listed are more explicit, such as carrying out cyber attacks or hacking into private networks to steal intellectual property. 

The DNI statement offers a set of guidelines to help private companies mitigate any potential damage these espionage attempts might cause.

The warning comes just about a month after three teams at the DEF CON 23 convention in Las Vegas managed to hack a US government satellite in orbit. Those attacks were conducted with the full permission of the government as part of the US Space Force’s Hack-A-Sat competition. Three of the teams that successfully breached the security of the orbiting satellite were awarded up to $50,000 in prize money for demonstrating how such an attack could be conducted.

This was the first time that hacker groups were able to prove that it was now possible to circumvent the cyber security protections of satellites in orbit.

The DNI warning states that “Foreign intelligence entities (FIEs) use cyber attacks, strategic investment (including joint ventures and acquisitions), the targeting of key supply chain nodes and other techniques to gain access to the US space industry.”

Securing satellites and other physical space systems faces many of the same challenges as securing other critical infrastructure systems: You typically need physical access to the equipment to make software upgrades. Satellites are designed to orbit the Earth for years and the tech stacks they rely on can easily become out-dated and affected by new security problems.

DNI:    DefenseOne:      Axios.    Wired:    Space.com     Techcrunch:        Image: David Mark

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