HACKING SPACE: THE SPACE FORCE AND ANALOGUE ALTERNATIVES

HACKING SPACE: THE SPACE FORCE AND ANALOGUE ALTERNATIVES

February 19, 2020 By Joseph P. Farrell

Last week, February 14, 2020, I blogged about the Trump Administration's emerging space force, the splitting of commands, and the implications of hacking for the cyber-security of any assets, especially weapons platforms, that may be based in space:

JPL AND SPACE HACKING…

One may consider today's blog a "revision and extension of remarks" based on the following article shared by T.M. (and again, a big thank you to all of you who pass along articles of interest):

Hackers could shut down satellites - or turn them into weapons

This article is intriguing from several standpoints, not the least because it uses specific examples to drive home the point that virtually all satellites are vulnerable to being hacked, and actually taken over by groups or nations which are not the owners of the platforms. Consider these examples cited in the article:

Satellites are typically controlled from ground stations. These stations run computers with software vulnerabilities that can be exploited by hackers. If hackers were to infiltrate these computers, they could send malicious commands to the satellites.

This scenario played out in 1998 when hackers took control of the U.S.-German ROSAT X-Ray satellite. They did it by hacking into computers at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. The hackers then instructed the satellite to aim its solar panels directly at the sun. This effectively fried its batteries and rendered the satellite useless. The defunct satellite eventually crashed back to Earth in 2011. Hackers could also hold satellites for ransom, as happened in 1999 when hackers took control of the U.K.'s SkyNet satellites.

Over the years, the threat of cyberattacks on satellites has gotten more dire. In 2008, hackers, possibly from China, reportedly took full control of two NASA satellites, one for about two minutes and the other for about nine minutes. In 2018, another group of Chinese state-backed hackers reportedly launched a sophisticated hacking campaign aimed at satellite operators and defense contractors. Iranian hacking groups have also attempted similar attacks.

These examples provide some corroboration for the sort of nightmare scenario I speculated upon in my Feb. 14th 2020 blog:

Or to boil all this down to two simple propositions: (1) no cyber system is secure, and (2) this opens the possibility that space-based hard assets such as satellites, including weapons platforms, could be hacked, and literally either "turned off" or - worse - taken over by a hostile power, and turned against their owner(s). Now, put those two propositions against the backdrop of the speculation I advanced earlier this week, that one of the implications of the splitting of the Space Command from Strategic Command is that the weapons platforms of the latter are approaching obsolescence, and that newer and much more exotic and destructive strategic offensive weapons platforms might be one reason for the command split. After all, if you're going to "defend" against asteroids, and shunt them aside or destroy them, then the weapons platforms to do so would be extraordinarily powerful (rods of God, x ray or gamma ray lasers, and so on), and capable of being turned against targets on the Earth. But those weapons have to be pointed and aimed, and that's done by computer programs, communications, and so on, all of which can be jammed, or hacked.

The possibilities outlined by the historical examples in the article plus my own speculations from my blog of Feb. 14th suggest today's high octane speculation:

Let us suppose, as a component of those speculations, that the various space powers, Russia, the USA, China, Japan, Europe and so on, have decided to secretly develop and deploy the types of weapons platforms referred to in my speculation of Feb 14th (if they have not already). How would one do so in such a way to insure maximum security to the systems thus deployed from being hacked and taken over by groups or nations not owning them?

There are, of course, a variety of ways to do this, but I submit that one of them, and one of the most secure means, is analogue systems, i.e., good old-fashioned-human beings "up there" running the systems of said platforms. To be sure, those platforms will still have computerized systems to run the platforms, but these would be isolated from ground based computerized command and control, but rather under the local control of humans based in the platforms themselves issuing the actual commands. In order to "hack the system" one would literally have to infiltrate humans into the crews of such platforms, a much more difficult proposition than actually hacking into any ground-based command and control computer systems. Communications with such platforms from the ground could be via laser-based systems with appropriate phase conjugation to adjust for atmospheric dispersion. Such systems would again would be much more difficult to hack, particularly if the ground were also controlled and run by humans. Of course, such communications could be interdicted, but again, this would be much more difficult than jamming radio-frequency based communications.

While this high octane speculation may or may not prove to be true, I suspect that such considerations are already in mind, for consider that a few years ago I blogged about the strange case of the American general who opined that the soldiers of the future must be prepared to fight "little green men." At the time those remarks were made, it was argued by some that the phrase "little green men" referred to Russian camouflage uniforms, and hence that there was nothing significant about the remarks at all. However, as I argued then, that phrase was well-known in common parlance to be a reference to extra-terrestrials, and to space, and the general could hardly have been unaware of those implications. His remarks could thus be taken to mean that a human military presence in space was a security necessity. It was, I'm suggesting here, a potential reference that the necessity for humans to run any space-based weapons platforms was already under consideration, perhaps for reasons similar to those I've outlined above.

See you on the flip side...