Everything you need to know about the threats of satellite hacking

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — It’s one of the biggest and least understood forms of hacking out there, but it can affect everyday life. It’s satellite hacking and we as consumers should be concerned about it.

It’s a part of our infrastructure we rarely think about.  

Satellites launched into space are out of sight and out of mind for most of us, yet they help run most systems we use on a daily basis.

“Everything is controlled through satellites ranging from GPS to financial to our defense,” said Alice Globus, the CFO of Nanotronics, a deep tech company that uses advanced machines and AI in a wide variety of ways.  

What’s the problem with satellites? For one, the infrastructure is aging.  

A satellite built five to ten years ago is considered old, and back then cybersecurity protocols were different from what they are now.  

CBS Consumer Investigator Steve Sbraccia wanted to know if the problems involved satellite data transmissions being interfered with, data being captured, or satellites being literally blown out of space.  

“All of the above can happen,’’ said Globus. “Attacks have happened in the past with other critical infrastructure and satellites are no different.”  

One common way to breach satellites is when security firewalls are defeated by social engineering.  

“You have someone in ground control, and they click a link that they shouldn’t be clicking on,” said Globus. “That opens them up to exposure in their system.”  

That action puts the hackers behind the firewall allowing them to do all sorts of damage.  

“This is what happened in Colonial Pipeline,” said Globus.  

Everything from stock trades to ATM transactions to GPS data provided to our phones and automobiles goes through satellites.  

Globus said if the satellites linking those systems are breached, the public needs to know ASAP.  

“We do have to hold politicians accountable and our leaders accountable for what happens,” she said. “There has to be better disclosure of when these critical infrastructure attacks are happening.”  

Globus also says the U.S. must be careful about where it obtains parts for its satellites.  

“A lot of these components are not being manufactured in the United States,” she said. “There’s always a risk of their firmware being already corrupted when they’re going up into space.”  

She also says our lawmakers need to be more concerned about the threat.  

Last year, a bipartisan group of senators introduced a bill to help protect U.S.-based satellites from hacking by providing $3 million annually to fund a Satellite Task Force.

The bill died in committee.