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Are Communications Satellites Secure?

Are Communications Satellites Secure?

If you are one of those people who believe in the illusion that Communications Satellites are secure, we have news for you. It will surprise you to know that there is a malicious cyber attack every minute, even though we are living in the 21st century. The fact is that nothing online is secure, but sometimes the impact of a cyber attack can be tremendous.

An example of such a high-impact cyber attack was when, earlier this year, on February 24, 2022, the international satellite Internet and TV provider, Viasat was attacked. Incidentally, the attack coincided with Russia’s assault on Ukrainian cities.

Are Communications Satellites Secure?

Soon after the attack, the Internet service for thousands of Viasat customers in Europe was cut off. The cyber attack was so damaging that it successfully disabled modems, to the extent that they could not be turned on, and had to be reprogrammed, and in some cases, replaced. It was suspected that the malware itself permitted the hackers to purposefully manipulate the modems, as they had likely already gained access to the Viasat networks.

Despite the conflict in Ukraine and the impact that resulted, the joint intelligence efforts of France, Ukraine and the United States, did not attribute the attack to Russian state actors. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) took proactive measures on March 17, 2022, and emphasized enhancing the cyber security of SATCOM network providers.

Are Communications Satellites Secure?
Why Are Communications Satellites More Prone to Cyber Attacks?

The cyber threat to satellites has been a longstanding concern, however, it has unfortunately been blended in with the myriad of other cybersecurity issues facing the global community. Consequently, it is not surprising that satellite security has gotten lost in the shuffle. Particularly given the need to prioritize and safeguard 16 critical infrastructure sectors.

It is a fact that cyber threats to communications satellites are far greater than other cybersecurity issues. This is because the architecture of the satellite system allows for various potential entry points for cyber attackers. As of January 1, 2021, there are 2,224 communications satellites orbiting the earth.

Research analytics

Research conducted on satellite security infers that:

  • Spacecrafts and ground stations are more exposed to cyber attacks including command intrusions and denial-of-service.
  • Transmission of uplinks and downlinks for satellites through open telecommunications channels is more liable to attack.
  • Internet of things (IoT) devices involved in satellite communications enhances the possibility of several other points of entry for savvy attackers.

The number of satellites orbiting the earth keeps increasing with more launches conducted each year. The United States, Russia, and China are at the top of the list in sending satellites into space for a number of purposes including earth observation, navigation and positioning, space science and observation, and “other” purposes, likely referring to intelligence activities.

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Disclaimer: Any opinions expressed in the blog do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Certrec. The content of this blog is meant for informational purposes only.