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Security Experts Warn Hackers Could Hijack Satellites

Watch the skies.
spacex dragon with solar panels Security Experts Warn Hackers Could Hijack Satellites

SpaceX’s Dragon. Probably won’t fall on you. (SpaceX.com)

An alarming report in The Independent may serve as a warning to satellite operators and a challenge to hackers: cyber security experts attending a conference in the United Kingdom say our satellites face more dangers than ever, including hijacking and sabotage by skilled and malicious hackers.

The Independent‘s Jerome Taylor reports that experts attending the Royal United Services Institute for Defense and Security Studies conference believe the world’s dependence on space-based tech could render many “acutely vulnerable”:

“It is a real issue and a real vulnerability,” explained Mark Roberts, a former space and cyber expert at the Ministry of Defence who has recently moved to the private sector. “What we are doing is making ourselves more vulnerable to attack than we had been formerly. My personal view is that a day without space is not going – as some people say – to send us back to the dark ages. It’s more likely to put us back into the 1960s.”

Experts add that the possibility of entire satellite networks being knocked offline or otherwise compromised can be added to existing dangers that include solar flares, space junk and overcrowding.

Space may be vast and endless, but as The Independent notes, the space immediately above the Earth’s atmosphere is actually growing smaller by the day as new satellites jostle for room to do their jobs beaming streams of data back to their home stations.

The Independent‘s report closes with a brief inventory of just what’s floating above our heads every day, waiting for a collision, meteor or especially clever signal hacker to bring it down:

6,500 The number of satellites that have been sent up since Sputnik.

400,000 The number of pieces of debris smaller than 10cm in orbit.

994 The number of operational satellites orbiting Earth.

3,000 The total number of satellites orbiting Earth (including those that are now defunct).

16,000 The number of pieces of debris larger than 10cm orbiting Earth in the area where most satellites are based.

As the U.K. paper notes, one of the most crucial uses for satellites now is GPS location services, so a rational caution for anyone worried about a sudden loss of turn-by-turn directions might want to reconsider tossing the old travel maps drying to dust in the trunk.

Regarding the 400,000 bits of debris smaller than 10 cm, we also recommend you carry an umbrella.

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