Cyber Security

China ‘decodes’ an American satellite in orbit; Claims expertise in automatic detection and remediation of security flaws in outer space

China ‘decodes’ an American satellite in orbit;  Claims expertise in automatic detection and remediation of security flaws in outer space
Written by ga_dahmani
China ‘decodes’ an American satellite in orbit;  Claims expertise in automatic detection and remediation of security flaws in outer space

The crowding of space has fueled concerns about cyberattacks on satellites. Given the cheap and readily available disruptive tools in the digital age, military and commercial satellites remain vulnerable to hacking by state and non-state actors.

To protect its space assets, China has devised a new cyber defense.

China has developed a new cyber defense infrastructure that can automatically detect security flaws in orbiting satellites, according to military experts involved in the project.

There are thousands of satellites in orbit, each with hundreds of components that could be vulnerable to hackers due to software or hardware failure.

As launch prices have decreased, there are now more satellites spinning in low-Earth orbits in 2022, opening the frontier of space to large launch projects from the private sector. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, there were 4,852 satellites in orbit in early 2022.

space-china
Stock Image: Chinese space station Tiangong

According to the Chinese researchers, the Ontology of Cyber ​​Situational Awareness for Satellites (OntoCSA4Sat), a computer system jointly built by the National University of Defense Technology in Changsha and the Beijing Aerospace Control Center, has a comprehensive database of satellites. .

Unlike publicly available databases, the new technology can identify potential flaws in a satellite, calculate the most effective ways to attack it, and suggest countermeasures. “The cybersecurity arms race in space has intensified,” Liu Bin, chief project scientist at the PLA science and technology laboratory, wrote in research published in the national journal Systems Engineering and Electronics late last month.

“For example, the US Space Force has established Space Delta 6, a space cyber combat brigade. The US Air Force and the National Security Agency are also developing space cyber weapons,” they wrote, adding that China’s space program faces a “serious threat.”

The United States Space Force Delta 6 Space (DEL 6) is charged with providing secure access to space through the Air Force Satellite Control Network and cyberspace defensive capabilities for space mission systems. Established in 2020 in support of US Space Command, plans, programs, integrates, executes, and maintains command and control and common user systems.

Additionally, the creation of a Space Systems Critical Infrastructure Task Force was announced by the Cyber ​​Security and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) in May to bring together all stakeholders interested in space system critical infrastructure, according to Forbes. report.

The cyber security of space has taken on additional importance after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and concerns about a possible hacking effort by the Kremlin.

Senior US space officials had warned that the Russian invasion of Ukraine is likely to spread into space, forecasting continued GPS jamming and spoofing and encouraging military and commercial space operators to be prepared for cyberattacks.

hack a satellite

According to Chinese researchers, many hackers find it difficult to exploit a satellite system in practice. The location of the ground station and the orbital pattern of the satellite are necessary to mount an effective attack against the satellite.

The hardware and software of many satellites are kept secret, and communication methods in orbit are often different from those on Earth.

However, the US view is quite contrary to the Chinese claims. US Space Force General David Thompson had previously said washington post that Russia and China were carrying out daily attacks on US satellites, using digital attacks, lasers and radio frequency jamming.

Attacks have been going on for a few years and have increased recently, according to to The Hill. Hackers hacked into the computers that control satellites in the United States in 2018, while in 2019 Iranian hackers tried to trick satellite companies into installing malware.

According to an indictment, Russia had hacked into the global navigation satellite system (GNSS) and sent false navigation data to thousands of ships, causing them to stray from their intended route.

AtlastV-rocket
File Image: The payload of a US Space Force Atlas-V rocket blasts off on April 15, 2018.

While no direct attacks on satellites have been reported, weaknesses in ground stations have been exploited to try to change satellite flight courses, among other things.

Hacking a satellite could lead to a complete failure of critical infrastructures such as communications, banking, and hospital servers, and command and control infrastructure failures, to name a few.

China is notorious in the United States for breaking into critical security systems, including space assets. Symantec Corp security analysts had claimed in 2019 that a sophisticated hacking effort launched from Chinese computers penetrated satellite operators, defense contractors and telecommunications companies in the United States and Southeast Asia.

The “American Study” of China

Li’s team demonstrated the machine’s capabilities in a “case study” using the US Iridium 108 satellite. The high-speed communication satellite was launched in 2017 and now serves the US military, energy industries and airlines. USA, among others.

The team discovered numerous potential vulnerabilities based on publicly available information, such as the satellite’s manufacturer, operator, and launch vehicle, as well as data that was not publicly available, such as the model of the satellite’s onboard computer, the architecture of its central processing unit, and its operating system, including one that would allow a hacker to read application data.

Iridium satellite constellation – Wikipedia

The system also suggested a feasible solution, so that even a space controller with no prior knowledge of cybersecurity could quickly close the gap.

Military investigators did not reveal all the flaws and did not say where they got the information. However, Jordan Hassin, CEO of Iridium Communications, expressed skepticism about several of the potential flaws identified.

“This is a CPU model that is not on our satellites,” Jordan said. “Iridium does not share any specific information about how we protect our network. However, I can tell you that we are going above and beyond industry best practices on this front.”

However, Liu’s team believes that because hacking is now so simple and cheap, there will be a rapid increase in cyberattacks in space.

Anti-satellite weapons have been created in a variety of forms, including missiles, lasers, microwaves, and space robots, but they are expensive, limited to a few countries, easy to track, and likely to produce debris that poses a threat to all of space. . users. Cyber ​​weapons, on the other hand, are not only affordable for many countries, but also difficult to trace.

That said, Chinese researchers have also been preparing for a possible kinetic attack on their satellites. Earlier this year, Chinese scientists claimed to have developed a new technology that could protect the country’s satellites against high-powered microwave weaponry, as the EurAsian Times previously reported.

According to some analysts, the number of satellites in orbit is expected to increase tenfold in the coming years, and many of them provide commercial services such as the Internet, which requires the development of systems to maintain order in space, which, according to Liu , is a pressing requirement.

The greater the number of satellites in space, the greater the risk of cyber threats, especially at a time when space is believed to be heading towards militarization and international rivalry is playing out over space assets. So there is certainly an urgent need to devise a mechanism to protect against cyber threats, China-style or otherwise.

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