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[] TechTV 10.10.02: Government Says Satellites Vulnerable to Hackers,

TechTV October 10, 2002
Government Says Satellites Vulnerable to Hackers

By Becky Worley, Tech Live

A new report from the General Accounting Office cites commercial satellites 
as possible targets for terrorism and hacking. See why many are fearful 
tonight on "Tech Live."

The report, presented to a congressional subcommittee, cites computer 
network intrusion, transmission jamming, and the use of unencrypted data 
for satellite control and communication as vulnerabilities. The threat of 
physical attack on a commercial satellite facility also is a possibility. 
Now the GAO is suggesting standards and regulations to keep commercial 
satellites safe.

Commercial satellites are more than tools for entertainment and 
newsgathering. But the workload of satellites is diverse and growing.

John Pike, director of says satellites are a serious 
part of our national well being.

"Cable TV, broadcast TV, inventory control, cellphones, pagers. Just about 
every facet of the modern information society at some time or another is 
being transmitted by satellite," Pike says. "They are essential to the 
modern economy."

It's not just the private sector. During Operation Desert Storm, commercial 
satellites accounted for 45 percent of military communication traffic. More 
recently, they have helped transmit surveillance data in the war against 

Pike says, "Drones used satellites a lot for those unmanned air vehicles 
flying over Afghanistan. They had to use commercial satellites to get that 
imagery back to the United States."

The GAO report explains why commercial satellite security needs to be 
reviewed and upgraded. One of the biggest issues is that control of 
satellites is performed through unencrypted channels.

Called TT&C (Telemetry Tracking and Control), these commands can be spoofed 
by an attacker uplinking commands.

The GAO report suggests commercial satellite companies scramble their 
control signals or spread them across different spectrums to make uplinking 
a spoofed instruction set more difficult.

The overall recommendation from the GAO is to put the control of commercial 
satellites under the regulatory control of the US government.

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