Hacking of Starlink terminals has begun

“From a high-level perspective, there are two obvious things to try and attack: signature verification or hash verification,” Wouters said. This failure is detrimental to the signature verification process. “Usually you want to avoid shorts,” he said. “In this case, we did it on purpose.”

Initially, Wouters tried to fail the chip at the end of its boot cycle, when the Linux OS was fully loaded, but eventually found it easier to fail at the beginning of boot. This approach is more reliable, Wouters said. For the fault to work, he said, he had to stop the decoupling capacitors used to smooth the power supply. Essentially, the attack disables the decoupling capacitor, runs a fault to bypass the safety protection, and then enables the decoupling capacitor.

This process allows researchers to run patched versions of Starlink’s firmware during the boot cycle and ultimately allow access to its underlying system. In response to the research, Wouters said, Starlink offered him researcher-level access to the device’s software, though he said he declined because he was too deep into the work and wanted to build a modchip. (During the test, he hung the modified plate outside the window of this research lab and used a plastic bag as a temporary waterproofing system.)

Starlink also released firmware updates that make the attack more difficult, but not impossible, to execute, Wouters said. Anyone who wants to break into a dish this way has to put in a lot of time and effort. While the attack wasn’t as disruptive as disrupting satellite systems or connections, Wouters said it could be used to learn more about how the Starlink network works.

“My job now is to communicate with the backend servers,” explains Wouters. While the modchip details are available for download on Github, Wouters has no plans to sell a finished modchip, nor has he given people the exact details of the patched user terminal firmware or the glitches he uses.

As more satellites launch — Amazon, OneWeb, Boeing, Telesat and SpaceX are creating their own constellations — their safety will come under greater scrutiny. In addition to providing internet connectivity for homes, these systems also help ships get online and play a role in critical infrastructure. Malicious hackers have shown that satellite internet systems are targeted.As Russian troops invade Ukraine, Russian military hackers allegedly target Via-Sat Satellite System, Deploy wiper malware This bricks people’s routers and takes them offline. About 30,000 internet connections were lost in Europe, including more than 5,000 wind turbines.

“I think it’s important to assess the security of these systems because they’re critical infrastructure,” Wouters said. “I don’t think it’s very far-fetched that some people would try to do this type of attack, because such dishes are so readily available.”

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