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SpaceX launched over 3000 Starlink satellites in orbit as of July 2022. However, a security researcher, Lennert Wouters, conducted an experiment to show how easily these satellites can be hacked with the help of a $25 tool.
Wouters showed how Starlink’s internet terminals could be glitched using the tool. He demonstrated getting access to Starlink’s software, launched an attack that caused a glitch and opened locked parts of the Starlink system. Reports about Starlink satellite’s User Terminals loopholes that make them vulnerable have led to widespread doubts over the security measures.
Speaking at the Black Hat Security conference in Las Vegas this week, Wouters said that since the user terminals of SpaceX-operated Starlink are readily available, it has become vulnerable to cybercrime and satellite hack. “Our attack results in an unfixable compromise of the Starlink and allows us to execute arbitrary code. The ability to obtain root access on the Starlink is a prerequisite to explore the Starlink network freely,” Wouters said.
The network of Starlink becomes accessible to hackers creating possibilities for hardware attacks. The custom circuit board or the modchip created by Wouters was designed using off-the-shelf parts. The Black Hat conference page confirmed that the attacks were made well within the watch of the SpaceX Bug Bounty program.
Upon the first black-box hardware security evaluation of the User Terminals (UT), it was presented that they could bypass the firmware signature verification using voltage fault injection. This was done despite the ‘immutable ROM bootloader’ having a custom fault injection countermeasure. Wouters could extract the ROM bootloader and eFuse memory with a modified second-stage bootloader.
Wouters created an open-source circuit board to elaborate on the possible glitches in the dish. He was rewarded last year for his research that pointed towards the supposed flows in the satellite that made them vulnerable to attacks. It was found that an entirely new model of the main chip will need to be cleaned to create better security. Lennert Wouters is a security researcher at the Belgian University KU Leuven. The Starlink satellites have provided connectivity to various parts of the world, especially with low connectivity. The satellite dish is named Dishy McFlatface that can be installed on homes or carried along for connectivity.