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To guard against cyberattacks in space, researchers ask “what if?”

Complex space systems like the International Space Station could be vulnerable to hackers.

Enlarge / Complex space systems like the International Space Station could be vulnerable to hackers. (credit: NASA)

If space systems such as GPS were hacked and knocked offline, much of the world would instantly be returned to the communications and navigation technologies of the 1950s. Yet space cybersecurity is largely invisible to the public at a time of heightened geopolitical tensions.

Cyberattacks on satellites have occurred since the 1980s, but the global wake-up alarm went off only a couple of years ago. An hour before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, its government operatives hacked Viasat’s satellite-Internet services to cut off communications and create confusion in Ukraine.

I study ethics and emerging technologies and serve as an adviser to the US National Space Council. My colleagues and I at California Polytechnic State University’s Ethics + Emerging Sciences Group released a US National Science Foundation-funded report on June 17, 2024, to explain the problem of cyberattacks in space and help anticipate novel and surprising scenarios.

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