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Gearing up for the second Hack-A-Sat satellite challenge event

Staff Report | Space Systems Command Public Affairs

LOS ANGELES AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. — Space Systems Command’s (SSC) Space Enterprise Corps Special Program Directorate’s (SSC/ECZ) satellite and ground system experts, along with the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) Information Directorate team, is once again gearing up for the second Hack-A-Sat satellite challenge event during the final upcoming competition on Dec. 11, 2021.

Hack-A-Sat is a virtual competition sponsored by the AFRL and SSC. The event made its debut in 2020 during the largest cyber-hacking conference in the world, DEF CON Safemode.

SSC/ECZ is providing integral support and oversight for the event. Hack-A-Sat organizers are designing individual flat-sats, which are non-orbiting satellite emulations built-out with sensors hardware and software, for the Hack-A-Sat finalists to compete on.

During the competition, teams who placed in the top eight from this past June’s qualification round will participate in an “attack/defend” style competition whereby each team will have to attack the other team’s satellite systems while maintaining their own defenses to protect their own space asset systems. The top teams have a chance to receive cash prizes and the ultimate chance to the bragging rights. There were ten teams who qualified in August, winning $10,000 each, and will compete at the final event in December for a $100,000 prize pool.

SSC and AFRL promoted the upcoming Hack-A-Sat competition at DEF CON’s Aerospace Village from Aug. 6-8, with demonstrations and interactive sessions, allowing cyber security experts to play or “game” on a flat-sat. Much of the SSC effort at DEF CON was on educating various researchers on the importance of the SSC acquisition lifecycle, teaching the cyber community how satellites are designed, and placing a high-level of emphasis on security.

SSC’s Enterprise Corps Special Programs director, Col. Brad Walker, said he is enthusiastic about the Hack-A-Sat concept and this year’s competition.

“Our team has bridged the gap between the hidden world of satellite operations and the outside hacking community. Hack-A-Sat has captivated the interest of exceptional global cyber talent, helping the United States Space Force and SSC in our ongoing quest to identify how and where our space assets are susceptible to cyber-attacks, something that was unheard of even five years ago.”

SSC/ECZ’s ultimate Hack-A-Sat goal is to provide a live on-orbit satellite for the hackers to breach in 2023. This satellite project, named “Moonlighter,” will represent the most current ideas and operational concepts available and offer intentionally-designed challenges based on real satellite operational data.

Capt. Aaron Bolen, the “Moonlighter” program manager, says, “Moonlighter will be a cyber-sandbox for hackers in space. Think of this as the ultimate cyber challenge for hackers as well as an awesome opportunity for the SSC team to develop, design and launch a satellite.”

The Hack-A-Sat project is led by SSC’s Enterprise Corps Special Programs Directorate and Cross Mission Ground and Communications Defensive Cyber Operations in conjunction with AFRL’s Information Directorate.

The Hack-A Sat event is one of many SSC initiatives, which fosters and embraces new innovative approaches and readily challenges the status quo as part of a deliberate commitment to continuously evolve, improve, and advance in space. With Hack-A-Sat, SSC continues its goal to remain as an interconnected force effectively and efficiently sharing relevant information with a broad array of stakeholders in support of its mission, which encompasses both the people and the infrastructure needed to enable and foster unrestrained exchange of information and ideas, nurturing the development and adoption of new technologies in order to more effectively confront uncertainty in a volatile, competitive space environment.

To learn more about this year’s second Hack-A-Sat competition, please visit www.hackasat.com and follow @USSF_SSC, @hack_a_sat, and @AFResarchLab, on Twitter.

Gearing up for the second Hack-A-Sat satellite challenge event
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