Wouters has also previously hacked Tesla, another of Elon Musk’s companies, by producing hardware that can unlock one of their electric vehicles in just 90 seconds.
In a presentation titled "Glitched on Earth by Humans”, Wouters demonstrated the attack on a Starlink User Terminal (UT) that allowed him to break into the dish and explore the Starlink network. Using a voltage fault injection attack, he was able to bypass SpaceX security protections.
“Our voltage fault injection attack was first performed in a laboratory setting and later implemented as a custom printed circuit board or 'modchip'. The presented attack results in an unfixable compromise of the Starlink UT and allows us to execute arbitrary code,” Wouters explained. “The ability to obtain root access on the Starlink UT is a prerequisite to freely explore the Starlink network.”
Starlink operates through satellite dishes or UTs located in people’s homes and businesses. Wouters’ successful breach has exposed the system’s vulnerability.
In a press release, Wouters commented, “The widespread availability of Starlink User Terminals (UT) exposes them to hardware hackers and opens the door for an attacker to freely explore the network.”
Following the hack, Wouters has made his homemade tool available on GitHub, complete with instructions on how to execute the attack.
SpaceX have dubbed Wouters a “badass engineer” and are now offering up to $25,000 to researchers who can find bugs in the network through their bug bounty programme. Their website already provides a list of 32 researchers who have found significant flaws in Starlink’s system. Elon Musk commented that the company actually encourages this type of hacking, as long as it’s done non-disruptively. SpaceX even praised Wouters’ work in a six-page paper called ‘Starlink invites security researchers (bring on the bugs)’.
Following the presentation, SpaceX’s information security manager Christopher Stanley tweeted, “#BringOnTheBugs - We love working closely with security researchers! Special shout-out to @LennertWo for an amazing presentation! We are hiring! If you are a badass engineer and love space, please check out spacex.com/careers”.
It seems SpaceX have given people the chance to hack into the space sector, quite literally. To anyone thinking a career in space is out of reach – we hope this story inspires you to think otherwise. Aspiring hackers can breach multi-billion-dollar space giants from the comfort of their bedrooms. These individuals are forcing companies to take notice of them and learn from their expertise.
The space industry is rapidly expanding and constantly providing new areas to enter into. There’s more than one way to get into the space sector, and they’re not as conventional as you might think.
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