ESA is looking for a few good hackers to test its cybersecurity

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The agency will host a hack-a-thon to test the security of its satellite system

The European Space Agency (ESA) is inviting people to hack a satellite in the name of cybersecurity. Applications are open through Feb. 18 to submit ideas on how someone would go about hacking the OPS-SAT satellite’s payloads. Entrants can also try to hack its experimental processing core. They can also try to determine how to detect and mitigate an attack. Potential hackers will have only six minutes of controlled communications to the OPS-SAT to demonstrate their idea.

“The in-built robustness of OPS-SAT makes it the perfect flying platform for ethical hackers to demonstrate their skills in a safe but suitably realistic environment,” said Dave Evans, OPS-SAT Mission Manager, in a statement.

“This is an exciting opportunity to engage with and learn from the best cybersecurity minds across Europe, using a platform specifically developed for learning lessons to improve our current and future missions.” 

Targeting the strongest system in ESA

The ESA said that the OPS-SAT is the ideal spacecraft to use in an experiment like this since it has a flight computer that’s 10 times more powerful than any other ESA spacecraft. 

In April, the top three finalists will be invited to attend the CYSAT conference in Paris to perform their hacking demo live. Specifically, the ESA is looking for ideas with a creative and realistic scenario, technical feasibility, and educational power.

The ESA said this “controlled hacking” method would help advance and further perfect cybersecurity. The results could help systems both in space and on the ground.

“Orbital systems are critical infrastructures able to collect and transmit data used on Earth for many services we could not live without,” the agency said.

This isn’t the first time a space agency has invited civilians to hack a spacecraft. In 2020, the US Air Force and the Defense Digital Service hosted a hacking contest. In that event, competitors also tried to hack a government satellite system.