Private space firms are up for business, offering everything from ultra-rich thrill rides to broadcasting the internet down to the Earth. However, some cybersecurity experts believe that this new industry will be a major target for hackers. Cyberattacks on space systems might impair internet access, tamper with Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) technology, and potentially turn satellites into weapons, given the recent uptick in the commercial rocket deployments and a sharp rise in ransomware attacks.
“If we’re concerned about individuals hacking into the navigation systems, we should be worried about that. If we are concerned about our electric system staying up, we should be worried about that,” Gregory Falco, who works at Johns Hopkins University as a civil engineering professor, informed Recode. “All of our other important infrastructures are enabled by these space systems, and we don’t even recognize it.”
Although the US is not presently facing a large-scale cyber-attack in space, satellites have been compromised in the past. Throughout 2007 and 2008, there were two American satellites that were utilized by the United States Geological Survey and the NASA Agency to evaluate terrain and climate were hacked four times. According to Maher Yamout, who works at the Russian cybersecurity firm Kaspersky as a senior security researcher, physical attacks and intrusions on satellites, their connection technologies, and the Earth stations that manage them have increased dramatically “possibly due to the development of the technology being used and the space race.”
According to Space Development Agency’s head, cyber-attacks against the satellites constitute a greater threat than missiles, a component of the DoD (Department of Defense) tasked with improving the military’s space capabilities. The United States Space Force, which is responsible for the military’s GPS and satellites, is also increasing its cybersecurity spending. The military is prepared for the possibility of increased cyberattacks in the space, while the federal administration is urging the expanding number of commercial space businesses to improve their cybersecurity, particularly as they prepare to launch additional satellites.
Hundreds of satellites have already been launched by Amazon, OneWeb, SpaceX, and others to offer internet access worldwide, with thousands more planned. These will be added to hundreds of satellites that we use for everything from weather reports to phone service to agricultural research. As per Travis Langster, SSA firm Comspoc’s vice president, while most people identify satellites with navigation applications, satellites also broadcast critical timing data that is used to operate the electric grid and financial operations.
Because of our increased dependency on technology, the prospect of hacking is particularly concerning. According to Iain Boyd, director of Center for National Security Initiatives at the University of Colorado Boulder, a hacker could try to gain access to a satellite by targeting the ground systems of a company. Once inside there, the attacker could distort unwanted download software, communications, or controls or even tell the satellite to alter direction.