• Satellites are vulnerable to hacking
  • The ISS could be destroyed using a rogue satellite
  • Hackers could cause satellites to crash to Earth

A cybersecurity expert warned how vulnerable orbiting satellites are to getting hacked. Once this happens, these robotic spacecraft could be used to carry out attacks on Earth and space-based facilities such as the International space station.

Currently, over 2,200 satellites are operating in low-Earth orbit. The figure is expected to balloon to tens of thousands within the next few years as private companies launch their own satellites. SpaceX alone plans to deploy a total of 42,000 satellites as part of its Starlink constellation project.

Due to the number of satellites orbiting Earth, Dr. William Akoto from the University of Denver warned that these satellites could be weaponized by nefarious groups to carry out various kinds of attacks.

According to Akoto, who specializes in cyber conflict, hackers can take control of the systems of satellites and disrupt various infrastructures such as transportation, electric and communication systems.

They could also use the satellite’s propulsion system and crash them onto Earth or other satellites. Akoto also warned that these weaponized satellites could be used to destroy and bring down the International Space Station.

“If hackers took control of these steerable satellites, the consequences could be catastrophic,” he wrote in an article on The Conversation. “Hackers could alter the satellites’ orbits and crash them into other satellites or even the International Space Station.”

According to Akoto, despite the complex nature of satellites, their systems are quite accessible due to how they were made. The cyber conflict expert noted that in order to keep manufacturing costs low, most companies and government agencies use off-the-shelf technology to develop certain components of satellites.

In addition, most companies and agencies often enter into partnerships with smaller firms to handle the various stages of a satellite’s manufacturing and launch phases. Akoto noted that the use of open-source technology and the involvement of multiple parties in the creation of satellites could leave them vulnerable to hacking.

“The danger here is that hackers could insert back doors and other vulnerabilities into satellites’ software,” he stated. “With each additional vendor, the vulnerabilities increase as hackers have multiple opportunities to infiltrate the system.”

Image: Artist illustration of a satellite in orbit. Pixabay