Communications satellites lack adequate defenses against remote hacking. Many of them lack even basic security measures, the German researcher found out.
In today’s digital world, even spacecraft become victims of cybercriminals. PhD student Johannes Willbold from the Ruhr University Bochum presented the results of his research at the Black Hat cybersecurity conference . It turned out that remote hacking of satellites became quite a feasible task.
Cybercriminals have long considered orbital hacking a complex and costly operation, especially due to the high cost of ground terminals. However, the reality turned out to be different. AWS and Microsoft Azure already offer ground terminal access services commercially to communicate with low-orbit satellites.
Using modern technology and commercially available components, attackers can easily assemble a terminal to communicate with satellites. For a small amount, about 10 thousand dollars, you can create a means for interacting with orbital vehicles.
Experimental satellites: research results
Researcher Willbold studied three types of spacecraft:
- ESTCube-1: A miniature cubesat launched by Estonia in 2013.
- OPS-SAT: A larger cubesat operated by the European Space Agency.
- Flying Laptop: small satellite of the Institute for Space Systems at the University of Stuttgart.
The test hack results were quite disturbing:
- Both cubesats (ESTCube-1 and OPS-SAT) were vulnerable due to the lack of authentication and data encryption protocols. This allowed the researcher to gain access to control satellites and block their operators.
- The Flying Laptop spacecraft demonstrated a basic security system and attempted to secure its core functions from tampering. However, given the availability of appropriate technical skills, the use of specialized code and the use of standard methods, vulnerabilities were also identified in this satellite.
Willbold argues that once hacked, attackers can take control of spacecraft, broadcast malicious information through them, and even, in certain cases, de-orbit them. This problem threatens not only the operation of satellites in Earth orbit, but also the security of information systems in general.