As if we didn’t have enough to worry about:
Last month, SpaceX became the operator of the world’s largest active satellite constellation. As of the end of January, the company had 242 satellites orbiting the planet with plans to launch 42,000 over the next decade. This is part of its ambitious project to provide internet access across the globe. The race to put satellites in space is on, with Amazon, U.K.-based OneWeb and other companies chomping at the bit to place thousands of satellites in orbit in the coming months.
These new satellites have the potential to revolutionize many aspects of everyday life — from bringing internet access to remote corners of the globe to monitoring the environment and improving global navigation systems. Amid all the fanfare, a critical danger has flown under the radar: the lack of cybersecurity standards and regulations for commercial satellites, in the U.S. and internationally. As a scholar who studies cyber conflict, I’m keenly aware that this, coupled with satellites’ complex supply chains and layers of stakeholders, leaves them highly vulnerable to cyberattacks.
If hackers were to take control of these satellites, the consequences could be dire. On the mundane end of scale, hackers could simply shut satellites down, denying access to their services. Hackers could also jam or spoof the signals from satellites, creating havoc for critical infrastructure. This includes electric grids, water networks and transportation systems.