Satellites support so much of our business infrastructure, but being in space doesn’t make them immune from hackers. Daniel Norman, senior solutions analyst at the Information Security Forum explains why they are vulnerable and attractive targets.
Many satellites also communicate solely through radio-based wireless protocols, which makes them an attractive target for attackers.
Satellite assets are unique; they are often two-to-three years in the making and then stay in space for decades. They underpin a significant number of industries that individuals wouldn’t even consider; from timings of financial transactions, to GPS for navigation and shipping, to communications and monitoring. Arguably all organisations are dependent somewhat on satellites somewhere in their supply chain, so the risk of downtime or disruption could potentially be very damaging. Chris Childers, chief executive officer of the United States National Defence Group, highlighted the fact that most satellites have been orbiting our Earth for many years, which means they have old technology that was made before cyber threats were a real issue. Many satellites also communicate solely through radio-based wireless protocols, which makes them an attractive target for attackers.
If NASA can be hacked, can’t everyone?
NASA, the most well-known pioneers of space exploration, are vulnerable to cyber attack. The US government has pumped billions of dollars into satellites but little into protection. Reports say that in 2010 and 2011 there were 5408 computer security incidents at NASA – one incident allowed full functional control of NASA’s networks. Hackers also gained access to the Landsat 07 satellite twice, in 2007 and 2008, and gained full control of Terra EOS for two whole minutes on two separate occasions by hacking the ground computers at weak points around the globe. It’s not just weak points around the globe that state-sponsored hackers expose. According to Marc Kolenko, PwC Cyber Security Consultant, “nation states have developed satellites that can park themselves in close proximity of another satellite, and interfere with Telemetry, Tracking, and Command (TTC) uplinks and downlinks. Now, that may not directly equate to a cyber exploit, but if I can insert myself into the uplink or downlink, I can certainly start manipulating the data payloads they carry.”