Hacking the eye in the sky

Space wars are waged in cyberspace

It’s getting pretty crowded up there, in low earth orbit, with thousands of commercial communications satellites, and whole constellations of internet microsats. Then there are the many military ‘birds’ whose primary mission is to spy on the enemy, whoever that might be, but we’re not supposed to talk about them.

The Space Force has to know about all of them, to ensure that the collision avoidance system – driven by artificial intelligence – keeps them safely apart. Even a minor space crash could trigger debris that snowballs into the dreaded Kessler Syndrome.

But there’s nowhere to hide in space, and every nation’s satellites are plainly visible, and their movements tracked. Which is where the hacking comes in. It’s one thing to know your enemy’s position, but even more useful to know what they are looking at. With powerful cameras being so small and cheap nowadays, even Starlink minisats can spy if they want to.

If you’re the hacker, once you’ve infiltrated a satellite network, you take great pains to cover your tracks. Like traditional spying, most of the advantage is lost the minute you are detected. Unless they actually attack you; then you can boast how weak their cyber defences are, and put them at a disadvantage.

On the other hand, with all the commercial satellites in orbit, it’s hardly necessary to hack. For the right price you can buy super hi-res images direct from the operators and contract for real-time feeds, day or night. With a non-disclosure agreement in place, of course. Unless you are a pariah state, and subject to universal sanctions.

Yes, wars in space are not about weapons. They’re about data and intelligence, and they are fought in cyberspace.

Warning: Hazardous thinking at work

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