The Starlink satellite system provides Internet access in 36 countries, and since February has been critical to maintaining connectivity in Ukraine.
And until recently, Elon Musk’s satellites, 3,000 in total, were considered completely impenetrable to hacker attacks. At least that was until a Belgian cybersecurity researcher managed to hack into a Starlink satellite.
And he does it with a $25 device assembled from parts from a nearby store.
The Belgian’s name is Lenert Wouters, and at a hacker press conference in Las Vegas dedicated to digital security, he explains in detail how he succeeded.
Wouters uses a so-called modchip – a small electronic device that is used to disable or bypass restrictions and protections imposed on another electronic device.
It takes the Belgian very little time and $25 to buy the parts from his usual tech store.
Wouters was then able to attach his modchip to the satellite dish from the kit, requiring no specialized equipment. Once attached, the board begins to attack Starlink’s security system, eventually causing a system error.
In this way, the hacker gets to the satellite’s control system, which should be completely locked down from access.
Wouters not only disclosed the Starlink vulnerability at the Las Vegas conference, but then described it to Wired and released a detailed description of his entire scheme on GitHub. “Once you’ve attacked the satellite, you can do a variety of things with it,” the Belgian explained to Wired.
“You can try to build your own trajectory of the satellite or give it commands other than the default ones,” he adds.
A Starlink kit arrives at the consumer with a satellite dish, jokingly named by Musk and his team Dishy McFlatface. It is this satellite dish that is vulnerable to Wouters’ hacking attack and through it the satellite in space can be harmed.
As part of the white-hat hackers, the Belgian promptly informed SpaceX about the security breach in their invention.
The company has duly paid for Wouters’ research efforts and is already working on updates.
Along with this, he also received praise from SpaceX and stated that he did not do his experiment to teach other people how to hack the satellites, but to make Starlink improve their security.
It remains to be hoped that the update will be rolled out quickly, before the satellites become subject to hacking attacks by detractors and especially by the Russian side in an attempt to shut down the Internet over Ukraine.