Despite the complexity of satellite technology, several reports and experts have pointed out that hackers can take control of these systems. Since there are few security standards, hacking a satellite seems easy by exploiting vulnerabilities, something that happened to the European Space Agency.
Recently, a group of ethical hackers gained access to a satellite’s onboard system, using default access privileges to take control of the application environment, and then exploited several vulnerabilities to install malicious code into the satellite’s systems .
It was a team of four cybersecurity researchers from a global technology company Thales and they hacked into ESA’s OPS-SAT demonstration nanosatellite. The space agency challenged the security experts to disrupt the operation of the satellite system.
The hacking allowed them to compromise the data sent back to Earth, specifically by altering the images captured by the satellite’s camera, and achieve other goals, such as masking specific geographic areas in satellite images while their activities were hidden to avoid detection by ESA.
This exercise was specially organized for CYSAT to help assess the potential impact of an actual cyber attack and the consequences for civilian systems. ESA will have access to the satellite’s systems during the exercise to maintain control and ensure normal operation is restored.
The success of this hacking attempt proves that such systems, which orbit the Earth and collect and transmit data to Earth, are vulnerable to cyber-attacks.
Given the threat, Pierre-Yves Jolivet, VP of Cyber Solutions at Thales said: “With the growing number of military and civilian applications relying on satellite systems today, the aerospace industry needs to consider cybersecurity at every stage of the process. the lifecycle of the satellite, from initial design to system development and maintenance.”
According to previous reports, U.S. officials claim that in 2007 and 2008, Chinese-backed hackers allegedly used a ground station connection to disrupt the operation of the Landsat 7 and Terra (EOS AM-1) Earth observation satellites.
Now recent reports have revealed that China, repeatedly accused of being behind hacking attacks on infrastructure and businesses, is apparently developing advanced cyberweapons to take control of enemy satellites.
It was also claimed that these cyberweapons would render satellites useless when transmitting data or conducting surveillance during a conflict.
So it’s a fact that while satellites have revolutionized the world in several ways, if hackers take control of these systems, the consequences could be catastrophic.
It is possible that hackers may simply disable satellites, limiting access to their services or they may block communications, wreak havoc on critical infrastructure such as power grids, water networks and transportation systems, as well as cause international security problems.
China’s steps ‘disturbing’
Major Vineet, the founder and global president of CyberPeace Foundation, told News18: “The recent reports of China’s alleged development of cyberweapons to hijack satellites and the incident involving the ESA’s OPS-SAT demonstration nanosatellite are indeed concerning. “
Being prepared to fight such actors is relevant for the national space agencies, he said. “It is imperative that countries work together to develop robust cybersecurity measures and policies to protect satellite systems and promote responsible behavior in cyberspace,” he added.
In addition, he believes that strengthening international cooperation and stimulating debate on space security will be critical to solving these challenges and maintaining the security and resilience of space activities related to cyber-attacks.
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