The Air Force Plans to Let Hackers Attempt to Hijack an Orbiting Satellite

Air Force to allow hackers to compromise military satellite.
Image credit: US Air Force

A select group of ethical hackers will get the chance to compromise an orbiting US military satellite live in Las Vegas.

The live hacking attempt will be part of the 2020 edition of DEF CON, one of the world’s largest and most publicised hacker conferences. Vetted participants will first have to complete a series of challenges attempting to compromise components used in military satellite systems. The best performing security experts to emerge from these trials will be given the opportunity to comprise an orbiting satellite and its ground station in the Hack the Air Force event.

The Hack the Air Force initiative began as a partnership between HackerOne and the Pentagon’s Defense Digital Service. The pair hoped to test the country’s national security apparatus against some of the world’s best ethical hackers in an attempt to shore up vulnerabilities.

This year’s DEF CON Hack the Air Force event saw experts attempt to compromise an F-15 fighter jet’s data system. The team found what sources have referred to as several serious vulnerabilities, which the military are currently working to rectify. The success of this event prompted the Air Force to up the ante next year with the announcement of their plan to allow security experts to hack a satellite.

“We have to get over our fear of embracing external experts to help us be secure,” explained the assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology, and logistics, Will Roper. “We have a very closed model. We presume that if we build things behind closed doors and no one touches them, they’ll be secure. That might be true to some degree in an analog world. But in the increasingly digital world, everything has software in it.”

It is currently unclear if the satellite chosen to serve as the event’s guinea pig is currently in orbit, or if the Air Force plans to launch a satellite specifically for the event.

Andrew Parsonson is a space enthusiast and the founder of Rocket Rundown. He has worked as a journalist and blogger for various industries for over 5 years and has a passion for both fictional and real-life space travel. Currently, Andrew is the primary writer for Rocket Rundown as we look to expand our reach and credibility.