A researcher hacked Elon Musk's satellites with a $ 25 gadget

A researcher hacked Elon Musk's satellites with a $ 25 gadget

At the Black Hat Security Conference in Las Vegas, an event heavily attended by the cybersecuirty community around the world, a Belgian researcher named Lennert Wouters demonstrated that he could hack one of the satellites of the SpaceX constellation, Starlink.

Starlink is a mega constellation of small satellites (smallsat) designed and operated by Elon Musk's company. It was created with the purpose of bringing Internet connectivity to remote areas of the earth, and has recently proved very useful during the occupation of Ukraine for accessing the internet from war zones. It currently has more than three thousand satellites.

Wouters illustrated how, by building a simple device costing only twenty-five dollars, he managed to hack into Starlink's dish and gain access to the system. "Our attack leads to an unsolvable compromise of Starlink's user terminal and allows us to execute code arbitrarily," Wouters wrote. The researcher also posted details of building his small device on GitHub. Starlink consists of three main components: satellites in orbit (specifically in low orbit, therefore about five hundred kilometers from the surface), a portal that sends the internet connection to the satellites and finally the dishes sold to users (user terminals), or the segment on which Wouters worked.

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The vulnerability present in the dishes can be exploited by hackers and cybercriminals to penetrate the Starlink network and cause malfunctions, with potentially serious consequences, also given the geopolitical role of satellite networks in times of war. Wouter had warned SpaceX about the vulnerability in its user terminals before presenting his discovery at the Las Vegas conference. Starlink had updated the systems, but the researcher replied that the only sure way to avoid this type of attack was to create a new version of the main chip.

After the conference, Starlink published a few pages of paper. in which it explains what security measures it has taken to protect its systems. She reiterated that she is open to cybersecurity researchers who want to identify vulnerabilities in the network.