Cyber warfare has become a regular fixture in recent conflicts. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, for example, has been accompanied by a series of relentless cyber attacks targeting public, private and military infrastructure.
In a paper published in a domestic journal in March, lead project scientist Liu Bin reportedly wrote that “the cybersecurity arms race in space has intensified” and that China’s space programme faces a “severe threat.”
“For example, the US Space Force has established Space Delta 6, a space cyber combat brigade. The US Air Force and the National Security Agency are also developing space cyber weapons,” they added.
United States Vice President Kamala Harris, meanwhile, announced on Monday, 18 April, that the US will no longer conduct anti-satellite (ASAT) missile tests which involve using ground-based missiles to destroy satellites in orbit.
In certain conditions, it is possible for hackers to interfere with or gain control of a satellite – for example, by breaking into a ground station or tampering with a user terminal and sending malicious inputs.
This would require meticulous planning and inside knowledge. Hackers have previously damaged components and held satellites hostage through ground stations, reports suggest.
The hardware and software used in modern satellites is proprietary and the details aren’t revealed to the public. Communication and security protocols are also kept secret.