Researchers Hacked SpaceX Operated Starlink Satellite Using $25 Modchip

In a hacking attempt carried out by a security researcher, Lennert Wouters, at the Belgian university KU Leuven, the Starlink satellite-based internet system operated by SpaceX was successfully hacked. 

The most shocking thing is that it cost him approx 25 dollars only to make a homemade circuit board to hack the system.

A series of hardware vulnerabilities have allowed hackers to gain access to the Starlink system, allowing them to run custom code on the devices and gain control over the Starlink system. 

During the Black Hat security conference, security analyst Wouters will briefly unveil all the key details.

Starlink Satellite Hacked

As part of the process of designing the modchip, Wouters created a layout that fits over the existing Starlink board, based on the scanning of the Starlink dish. By soldering the modchip directly to the Starlink PCB, he was able to connect it to the existing Starlink PCB.

This kit includes the following components:-

  • Raspberry Pi microcontroller
  • Flash storage
  • Electronic switches
  • Voltage regulator

The tool also launched a fault injection attack on the Starlink dish once it was attached, which led to a temporary short of the system as a result. Consequently, Wouters was able to bypass Starlink’s security measures in order to gain access to the system’s locked areas.

Wouters’ attack took advantage of an error in the bootloader and ran the glitch on this bootloader. Afterward, he deployed patched firmware that enabled him to control the dish by using later bootloaders.

Inference

The launch of more than 3,000 small satellites since 2018 has already provided Internet access to locations that terrestrial networks cannot reach and haven’t been able to reach for many years.

As more and more satellites are launched, the security of their operation will become more and more important. Since satellite internet systems have already been targeted by malicious hackers.

During Russian troops’ entry into Ukraine, Russia attacked a satellite that provides internet communications all over Europe. It has been estimated that about 30,000 internet connections have been disrupted throughout Europe. 

Even the tide effects of this event were felt in other critical infrastructures as well as the aviation navigation systems.

The researcher notified Starlink of the flaws last year and the company paid Wouters through its bug bounty scheme for identifying the vulnerabilities. 

This is what Starlink reiterates:-

As the attack requires physical access to the user terminal, it emphasizes that it is only affecting a single device and not the entire system that was compromised due to the glitching process. Starlink’s overall system, which includes a wide range of systems, is not affected by this issue.

Also Read: The Rise of Remote Workers: A Checklist for Securing Your Network – Downloads Free E-Book

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