Home / News

Satellite Security Showdown: DEFCON’s Hack-A-Sat Competition Highlights the Rising Stakes of Space-Based Cybersecurity

Moonlighter, a foot-long toaster-sized CubeSat, is designed for hacking contests like Hack-A-Sat. It lacks propulsion for safety. It is part of a group of six CubeSats launching on SpaceX’s 28th Commercial Resupply Services mission to the International Space Station (ISS). Developed by the Aerospace Corporation, Moonlighter is the world’s first hacking sandbox in space, aiming to enable real-time cyber security testing in orbit. Photo: The Aerospace Corporation

As industries from agriculture to banking increasingly depend on space-based capabilities, safeguarding satellites from cyber threats has become paramount. In a groundbreaking move to address this, the U.S. military will stage Hack-A-Sat 4, a competition at the famed DEFCON hacker convention, inviting white-hat hacker teams to attempt to infiltrate and control computer systems on a satellite in orbit.

Space Vulnerabilities: The contest’s announcement follows the damaging cyberattack on the European satellite network, Viasat KA-SAT, last year by Russian military hackers. The impact of the attack highlighted the potential vulnerabilities of space-based communication networks integral to the global economy and the increasing risks of cyber threats.

With more countries and companies building their satellites and buying rides on launch vehicles to get them into orbit, “space is democratizing,” notes Steve Colenzo, Technology Transfer Lead for the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Information Directorate. This democratization increases the need for cyber security awareness among all new entrants since the global reliance on their capabilities is set to grow.

Previous Satellite Hacking: However, Hack-A-Sat 4 is not the first attempt at hacking a satellite in orbit. That credit goes to Brian Jouannic and his team from French defense, space, and technology giant Thales, who successfully took over a European Space Agency satellite.

Hack-A-Sat 4 will witness teams worldwide, including the U.S., Australia, Germany, Italy, and Poland, competing at DEFCON. The U.S. Space Force and the Air Force Research Laboratory stage this event, with the ultimate target being the Moonlighter satellite. Despite the intense competition atmosphere, it’s crucial to remember that the stakes are high, with national security hinging on the outcomes. A leaked CIA document suggests China is developing cyber weapons to seize satellite control, indicating that potential future conflicts may pivot around control of space assets.

By CircleID Reporter

CircleID’s internal staff reporting on news tips and developing stories. Do you have information the professional Internet community should be aware of? Contact us.

Visit Page

Filed Under


Comment Title:

  Notify me of follow-up comments

We encourage you to post comments and engage in discussions that advance this post through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can report it using the link at the end of each comment. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of CircleID. For more information on our comment policy, see Codes of Conduct.

CircleID Newsletter The Weekly Wrap

More and more professionals are choosing to publish critical posts on CircleID from all corners of the Internet industry. If you find it hard to keep up daily, consider subscribing to our weekly digest. We will provide you a convenient summary report once a week sent directly to your inbox. It's a quick and easy read.

I make a point of reading CircleID. There is no getting around the utility of knowing what thoughtful people are thinking and saying about our industry.

Co-designer of the TCP/IP Protocols & the Architecture of the Internet




Sponsored byVerisign

IPv4 Markets

Sponsored byIPv4.Global

Threat Intelligence

Sponsored byWhoisXML API

Brand Protection

Sponsored byCSC


Sponsored byDNIB.com

New TLDs

Sponsored byRadix

Domain Names

Sponsored byVerisign