June 1, 2023
For the first time in history, hackers have hacked into a satellite and taken control of it.

For the first time in history, hackers have hacked into a satellite and taken control of it.

Photo: Shutterstock

For the first time in history, hackers have hacked into a satellite and taken control of it. Cinema sooner or later becomes a reality: in dozens of films since the 1970s, bad guys did just that (and then pointed lasers at the White House and demanded a trillion dollars). And it’s even surprising why no one did this in reality. After all, it is very, very simple.

Okay, they pumped it up and it will be. The hackers did take control of the satellite, but it was a special experiment. The hackers work for Thales and were asked to hack the satellite by the European Space Agency (more precisely, the cybersecurity arm of the agency). They broke, so as not to break firewood, a nanosatellite, that is, a tiny piece of iron launched in 2019 – OPS-SAT. He flies himself, does nothing of vital importance, it’s not a pity.

But that’s where the good news ends. Because good hackers are in business today and bad hackers tomorrow. Without any input, the masters of computer hacking completely captured the satellite, and began to control it. The demonstration was so impressive that the European Space Agency came out with a special statement: they say, we retained control, and asked the “hackers” not to do crazy tricks (or they could send a ram to the ISS, for example).

It all looks pretty crazy. It seems that everyone, even grandmothers, knows that cybersecurity is everything for us. Ordinary people do not use simple passwords, do not open dubious letters, and are generally aware of the danger. Meanwhile, satellites are such open doors, come in, take what you want. Recently, the American security forces prepared a special report on this subject, saying that if China (they are afraid of China) wants to hack, it will hack. In fact, the Thales hackers were not even the first. Amateurs break all the time, but – so far they have not done anything wrong.

The loudest story is connected, of course, with the Russians. A few years ago, NATO noticed that Russian hams were chatting through US military satellites as though they were their own. To do this, the men on the Niva and in hats with earflaps used antennas from old tin cans, which seemed especially offensive to the NATO. Amateurs love to communicate with each other on the radio, that’s the essence of amateurism. Well, if something helps to transmit a signal, for example, a satellite. Then from the Smolensk region you can contact Vladivostok. There are special amateur satellites, but there is always a crush, the signals are confused, and this is trite. It turned out that Western military satellites could be used in exactly the same way. They did (and seem to be doing). There was not even a security code: they simply sent a signal to the satellites, and he obediently relayed it. Since the satellite, generally speaking, is not far away (which is 300-500 km for a radio in a straight line), even home-made antennas from tin cans worked.

More than once, Elon Musk’s Starlink system, which distributes the Internet to everyone (and also spies a little), was broken. At least two episodes are known. Belgian cybersecurity specialist Lennert Wouters built a simple device from available parts for $ 25, and slightly disrupted the distribution of the Internet from satellites. Further it is strange: on the one hand, he warned Elon Musk that this is how everything just breaks down for you, on the other hand, he published drawings of his “master key” in order to be reproduced by others. And Todd Humphreys of the University of Texas made Starlink satellites work as GPS navigators, although this option is not provided.

Why is cybersecurity in space ignored? Inertia of thinking: far, high, invulnerable. And this is in an era when soap operas are watched in the villages through a satellite dish. Why don’t real villains massively break anything in space? Here it is better to ask some secret intelligence officers (and they will not say anything), but I think the point is that they are saving it for later. Everyone understands: if you start massively destroying satellites, they will be massively protected. It is better to wait for a serious mess, and take advantage of the surprise effect.

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