Several ethical hackers recently accepted a challenge posed by the European Space Agency (ESA) to assess the resilience of satellite infrastructure by attempting to infiltrate servers and compromise satellite imaging sensors and data. Fortunately, this hacking exercise was conducted solely for the purpose of evaluating the satellites’ operational security, and we can assume that no sensitive data fell into the wrong hands, thus averting potential risks to millions of lives.
In September of the previous year, the ESA invited seasoned professionals from the security industry to organize drills aimed at testing the cyber resilience of satellites, which we heavily rely on for communication and other critical needs. A group of ethical hackers, known as white hat hackers, willingly stepped forward to test the effectiveness of the existing security measures.
As reported in a recent media update, the hackers successfully gained control of a satellite, including its global positioning management systems. This meant they had technical control over the electronics that stored information about specific devices and their locations on Earth.
Furthermore, they managed to exploit a significant vulnerability to insert a malicious code into the system, enabling the ethical hackers to assume control over the altitude control system and the onboard cameras responsible for transmitting satellite imagery.
Interestingly, the white hat hackers were able to compromise some of the data being transmitted to Earth and manipulate the regular operations in a manner that deceived the camera capturing images.
Sharing details with the media, a cybersecurity expert emphasized the benefits of such exercises in raising awareness about potential vulnerabilities within current satellite systems. These drills enable the responsible entities to identify and rectify flaws before any untoward incidents occur. This reference includes recent satellite hacking incidents involving SpaceX, owned by Elon Musk, the CEO of Twitter, and satellite-based internet resources utilized to provide web services to the Ukrainian population.
It’s worth noting that China appears to be ahead in securing its space assets, as it has developed a new cyber defense infrastructure capable of automatically detecting flaws in orbiting satellites and addressing them promptly. The US Space Force has also established Space Delta 6, a combat brigade focused on countering space threats, including the detection and prevention of adversarial attacks in a timely manner. Hopefully, these proactive measures will enhance the overall security of satellite systems.