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[infowar.de] Risiken des Satelliten-Hacking
Ein neuer Bericht des General Accounting Office zur Sicherheit
kommerzieller Satelliten: http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d02781.pdf
Report: Satellites at Risk of Hacks
By Kevin Poulsen
Oct. 3, 2002
Critical commercial satellite systems relied upon by federal agencies,
civilians and the Pentagon are potentially vulnerable to a variety of
sophisticated hack attacks that could cause service disruptions, or
even send a satellite spinning out of control, according to a new
report by the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of
The GAO report, dated August 30th but not released publicly until
Thursday, criticizes the White House for not taking the
vulnerabilities into account in its national cybersecurity planning, a
criticism it also extends back to the Clinton administration.
The focus of the report is on satellite systems which are used
extensively by the federal government, but like many critical
infrastructures are in the hands of the private sector.
Among the weaknesses investigators found: some satellite companies
don't encrypt the tracking and control uplinks through which the
satellites are controlled from the ground, making them vulnerable to
spoofing, with potentially dire results. "If false commands could be
inserted into a satellite's command receiver (spoofing the receiver),
they could cause the spacecraft to tumble or otherwise destroy
itself," reads the report.
"It is also feasible to insert false information or computer viruses
into the terrestrial computer networks associated with a space system,
either remotely or through an on-site connection," the GAO found.
"Such an attack could lead to space system degradation or even
complete loss of spacecraft utility."
Such an attack could impact military operations, the report claims,
citing a Department of Defense (DOD) study that found that commercial
satellites were used for 45 percent of all communications between the
U.S. and forces in the Persian Gulf region during Desert Storm. "The
importance of commercial satellites for DOD is evident during times of
conflict," the GAO concluded.
The study does not attempt to rate the likelihood of such an attack,
and found that there are some significant safeguards in place -- for
example, some companies deliberately use extremely high-power
transmitters to control their satellites, making it unlikely an
attacker could overpower the authentic signal with a fake one.
But the level of security varies significantly, the report found, and
with little regulation governing satellite security, commercial
providers have little incentive to invest in costly solutions.
One federal policy initiated in January 2001 theoretically requires
satellite providers handling national security communications to meet
minimal cybersecurity standards, but the report found that not a
single company was entirely compliant with the directive, which is
missing an enforcement mechanism.
"Some satellite service providers view compliance ... as not necessary
for selling services to the government, since in the past agencies
have used satellites that did not comply with prior security policy,"
the report found. "For example, DOD has contracted for services on
satellites that were not compliant with the previous and existing
policy for various reasons. However, at times, noncompliant satellites
have been DOD's only option."
The GAO lists several past satellite glitches, intentional and
accidental, beginning with the 1986 "Captain Midnight" hack, in which
a worker at a commercial satellite transmission center in Florida
briefly took over HBO, interrupting an airing of the Falcon and the
Snowman with a text message protesting the pay TV channel's new
In 1998, the accidental failure of the Galaxy IV satellite disrupted
over 35 million pagers across the United States for two to four days,
and blocked credit card authorization of point of sale terminals.
The report notes that, except for GPS vulnerabilities, satellite
systems were ignored in President Clinton's cybersecurity efforts, and
are faring no better under the Bush administration's cybersecurity
"Given the importance of satellites to the national economy, the
federal government's growing reliance on them, and the many threats
that face them, failure to explicitly include satellites in the
national approach to [critical infrastructure protection] leaves a
critical aspect of the national infrastructure without focused
attention," the GAO concludes.
A spokesperson for the President's Critical Infrastructure Protection
Board didn't immediately return a phone call on the report Thursday.
The report was produced shortly before last month's unveiling of the
White House's draft National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace, which
doesn't address satellite system vulnerabilities, but generally
eschews any new regulation of critical infrastructure providers.
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