A two-year, €500,000 ($594,000) European Space Agency project is developing encryption and security software and hardware for commercial satellites. In theory satellites can be “hacked” into just like a ground-based computer.

Military encryption and security systems are not available in Europe for commercial satellites. ESA is a civilian organisation and will develop the technology under its Authenticated Access to Geostationary Satellites project, which is part of its Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems programme. As geostationary satellites are permanently visible they are susceptible to sustained attack and a potential hacker can obtain location, signal frequency and modulation information from public sources.

“We are aware of the issue [of hacking] and you could ask, why not satellites one day? The industry is aware of it, but they will never talk [about any actual instances] if they have occurred,” says Jorgen Sandberg, ESA’s head of technology projects in its telecommunication satellites department. The technology would have to be reliable enough to ensure on-board hardware or software errors do not deny access for authorised users.

Tenders will be accepted from the fourth quarter and the contract is expected to be placed in February 2007.

Source: Flight International