Hackers can use decommissioned satellites to broadcast hacker TV. With many orbiting satellites in space there is a potential security threat, researchers and the US military are concerned.
Karl Koscher, an embedded device security researcher at the ShmooCon security conference in Washington, DC on Friday raised a question: What happens when an old satellite is being decommissioned and transitioning to a “graveyard orbit”?
Koscher and his team are working on a Canadian satellite, called Anik F1R, launched to support Canadian broadcasters in 2005 and designed for 15 years of use. They have permission to access and broadcast as it moves to the graveyard orbit soon.
Even though many of its services have been migrated to a new satellite, Anik F1R still has its uplink license and transponder slot lease, this gave the researcher the opportunity to take over and broadcast to the northern hemisphere.
He and his team from Shadytel telecommunications and embedded device hacking group broadcast a live stream from another security conference, ToorCon San Diego, in October.
According to him, the tools were used to turn an unidentified commercial uplink facility into a command center for broadcasting from the satellite. The station features a special powered dish to communicate with satellites. The experiment just highlights the gray area when a disused satellite is not moved further away from Earth to its final resting orbit.
Koscher explained, “Technically, there are no controls on this satellite or most satellites—if you can generate a strong enough signal to make it there, the satellite will send it back down to the Earth.”
He further added, “People would need a big dish and a powerful amplifier and knowledge of what they were doing. And if a satellite were fully utilized, they would need to overpower whoever else was using that particular transponder spot or frequency.”
Earlier in 2009, Brazilian Federal Police arrested 39 suspects on suspicion of hijacking US Navy satellites using high-powered antennas and other ad hoc gear for their own CB (citizens band) short-distance radio communications.
Koscher also mentioned the lack of authentication and controls on the satellites may allow countries to hijack each others’ equipment.
Ang Cui, an embedded device security researcher said, “One could take over even newish satellites. There definitely are things that are just hanging out up there.”
Koscher’s teammate, who goes by the hacker name Falcon added, from the freedom of information perspective the satellite uplink capabilities should be reimagined as plentiful and available rather than exclusive and scarce. He added, “What if this was just a universal utility”