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Geopolitical tensions prompt US warning for satellite operators

Geopolitical threats spurring from Russia's invasion of Ukraine prompted requests to boost cyber defenses for communication satellite operators.

The US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency (CISA) and the FBI claim both agencies are aware of possible threats to local and international satellite communication (SATCOM) providers.

A statement from both agencies says a successful intrusion into SATCOM networks could create risks in network providers' customer environments.

"Given the current geopolitical situation, CISA's Shields Up initiative requests that all organizations significantly lower their threshold for reporting and sharing indications of malicious cyber activity," CISA writes.

The agency offers numerous steps for organizations to prevent their systems from unwanted attention. Similar advisories were issued for other sectors operating critical infrastructure.

Multiple nations and companies operate satellites for communication purposes. At least one of them, Elon Musk’s Starlink, provided some equipment to Ukrainians and got involved in a Twitter feud with Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of Chechen forces that are fighting for the Russians in Ukraine.

The space front

Space assets came into light several times after the Kremlin invaded Ukraine. Most notably, hacker group NB65 said they managed to impact the daily activities of Roscosmos, the Russian space agency.

The head of Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, dismissed such claims as false later adding that hacking a satellite would constitute a 'reason for war.'

At the beginning of the month, hackers also urged Ukraine's 'IT army' to target Russia's satellite-based navigation system, GLONASS.

Most modern satellites are little more than specialized computers in space. What that means is that the devices are not immune to hacking.

However, threat actors don't need to hack into satellites to disrupt the infrastructure based on artificial moons. Malicious hackers could carry out an attack by breaching mission control or intercepting radio or optical communications.

CubeSat deployment. Image by NASA.

Russian invasion

Russian forces invaded Ukraine on February 24, kicking off a war all over the country. In light of the attack, the hacker community started rallying to help Ukrainians. With Anonymous being the most prominent one, numerous hacker groups and researchers partake in various campaigns to help Ukraine.

Cyber activists targeted Russian government websites, Russian state-controlled media outlets TASS, Kommersant, Izvestia, Fontanka, and RBC, pushing them offline. Russian carrier Aeroflot and major lender Sberbank were also experiencing outages and access issues recently.

Russian nuclear agency Rosatom and the country's space agency Roscosmos were allegedly breached by hacktivists protesting the war in Ukraine. The German branch of the Anonymous collective also claims to have stolen 20 terabytes of data from the German arm of Rosneft, Russia's state energy company.

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