DailyPost 2431

Have you heard of aircraft getting hacked or have a cyber-attack? While you make efforts to delve deep into this interesting topic, I will take you to an arena, you would not have ventured to think of. Cyber attacks on spacecrafts. Cyber space is the fourth frontier of war. A recent hack challenge has put on public display, demonstrated the capability of our hackers and forced us think that is only time, when the cyber attacks hit the cyber space in a big way. There is nothing sci-fi in the world today, the craziest sci-fi is being played out every day, from the AI onslaught to cyber attacks in space.

A bit of history would justice to the current topic. The first scenario came to light with the hack of American-German ROSAT X-Ray satellite in 1998. This goal was accomplished by breaking into the computers at the Goddard Space Flight Centre in Maryland. They pointed the solar panels to the sun, effectively destroying its batteries, making satellite inoperable. Satellites can also be held captive for ransom. In 1998, hackers did the same with UK’s SkyNet satellites. The danger has kept on increasing. In 2008, two NASA satellites were purportedly fully controlled by hackers, mostly from China to two minutes and nine minutes respectively. Chinese state sponsored hackers reported to have run a sophisticated cyber operation on satellite operators and defense contractors in 2018. Such adventures have been tried by Iranian hackers as well.

Certainly, there is a need to check where we stand today. European Space Agency, ESA, is opening the eyes of the world. ”Space warfare is inevitable, and the space ecosystem has to be in preparedness at all times.” During an annual cyber security event organized for the space industry, ESA threw up a challenge to the cyber security professionals in the space arena. This was to interfere with the operation of the ESA’s “OPS-SAT” demonstration nanosatellite. It can be treated as a capability demonstration of sorts. Knowing the details of the challenge would make it more interesting.

The hackers (cyber security professionals) were to take control of payload’s GPS, altitude control system, and onboard imaging sensor using a wide range of ethical hacking tactics. To know the real cyber security concerns was the purpose. It was to understand how gaining unauthorized access can result in losing control or significant damage. This was executed by Thales’ offensive cyber security team in collaboration with Group’s Information Technology Security Evaluation Facility. Thale’s four cyber security experts gained access to onboard systems and “took control over the application environment using conventional access permissions.” The goals achieved were included obscuring certain regions in the satellite imaging. The hack disguised their operations to avoid being discovered by ESA. We are ushering in the era of space warfare; resilient and robust space; spacecrafts and satellites is the need of the hour.

Sanjay Sahay

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