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The main threat to humanity from Starlink and OneWeb satellites

In just four launches, the private space company SpaceX became the operator of the largest satellite constellation in Earth orbit, and there are plans to increase the number of vehicles by 175 times. This fact makes us wonder what man-made “constellations” are in the near future for mankind. Oddly enough, the primary problem is not a potential nearby space littering, but vulnerability to cybercriminals.

The main goal of projects such as Starlink (SpaceX, USA), OneWeb (United Kingdom), Kuiper (Amazon, USA) is to provide broadband Internet access around the globe. Each orbital constellation will differ in composition and some characteristics of data transmission systems, however, they are all fundamentally similar. These are relatively inexpensive (the order of prices is hundreds of thousands of dollars excluding launch) and small (weighing 100-300 kilograms) spacecraft (SC) operating, in contrast to existing satellite communications systems, in a low circular orbit (200-1200 kilometers) or orbits.

The low cost of each individual spacecraft (and, accordingly, of the entire project as a whole) is determined by the use of industrial components, which are mass-produced, as well as by conveyor assembly of satellites. Moreover, each of these products has its own propulsion system (for changing the orbit and orientation), a solar panel and a unit of several transceivers. Starlink satellites, for example, will completely communicate with each other via a laser beam, but so far the first phase of orbiters (240 pieces) is dispensed with.

In an ideal situation, everything looks great: you buy a budget terminal for yourself (the expected cost is up to a thousand dollars) and you can watch YouTube, read Wikipedia and download torrents absolutely everywhere (of course, only with Linux distributions). However, the devil was hidden in the details – because we do not live in an ideal world. And this was recently told by Phys.org, or rather, one of the authors of the subsidiary project The Conversation. This portal is intended for scientists, university professors and students so that they can express opinions, analyze and post their articles. Each material must be checked by professional journalists and more experienced members of the community.

Having collected a huge amount of information available in open sources, William Akoto came to the conclusion that the main threat to people and organizations using the services of such satellite communication providers are hackers. If Starlink, OneWeb and other projects have achieved at least most of the claimed characteristics, their audience will grow like an avalanche. Such Internet can be very profitable and convenient in the open sea, remote regions, as well as on airplanes and even in large cities at facilities where an alternative communication line cannot be temporarily or permanently drawn.

One of the key advantages of all such “constellations” of satellites in low orbit – low signal delay – may interest several types of very important customers at once. Firstly, these are infrastructure facilities and utilities in cases where data from them must be obtained promptly. Secondly, it’s the military, which will quickly “try out” the ability to control, for example, drones in real time (the signal lag is less than 100 milliseconds), and not as it is now available with a delay of 0.5-4 seconds, or even more. Thirdly, if the signal delays can be reduced to the promised minimum, Starlink and its competitors will become a very likely tool for traders and financial organizations, and this is money, a lot of money.

The problem with all these satellites lies in their main advantage – cheapness. Manufacturing companies save and will save on everything, which means that not the most obvious issue of cybersecurity may “fall under the knife”. If we add to this the electronic components of mass production, which are relatively easy to find and study, it turns out that hackers have all the cards on hand. Attackers are given the opportunity to analyze targets in such detail as it has never been possible for spacecraft.
And the most dangerous thing is the lack of a legislative base and normative acts concerning this issue. Who will be responsible for the overlooked vulnerability due to which hackers broke into several satellites and displaced them from orbit? if the criminals intercepted the traffic with the help of an extraterrestrial data exchange node and received important information, or even access to the country’s infrastructure facilities, how will responsibility be distributed in this case?

The problem with cybersecurity can manifest itself at all stages of the production process of projects such as Starlink and OneWeb. The use of mass electronic components, but not custom-made or in-house, leaves the opportunity for the contractor to add backdoors (“back doors”) to the design. The same goes for software, and almost to a greater extent.
These are not far-fetched situations: in the recent history of mankind there is already at least one confirmed hacker attack on a satellite. In 1999, attackers were able to remotely infiltrate the internal network of the Goddard Space Flight Center and gained access to computers responsible for monitoring the ROSAT X-ray orbital observatory. It is not known whether this happened intentionally or not, but cybercriminals experimented with various commands to the spacecraft and ultimately disabled it.

As a solution, one can propose the introduction of international standards for the creation and management of private satellite constellations and more stringent certification of such projects. Undoubtedly, Starlink, Kuiper and OneWeb are advanced technologies that are almost certainly good. However, along with progress, risks, sometimes serious ones, always keep pace. This is not a reason to abandon a bright future with Internet access from anywhere in the world, but a number of measures must be taken so that it is not overshadowed by the catastrophic consequences of rash decisions.

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Underworld

How Russia and the United States nearly started a nuclear war in 1995

The Norwegian meteorological rocket incident remains the only time in history that the Russian president has activated his nuclear briefcase.

On January 25, 1995, Doomsday could have come in the world: the Russian Federation was preparing to launch a nuclear strike on the United States. How did it come about that the states that left the confrontation of the Cold War in the past and had just normalized relations with each other found themselves on the verge of mutual destruction?

The beginning of the war?

The cause of the crisis was an ordinary Norwegian meteorological rocket. Its launch from the small island of Anneia at 7 am local time (10 am Moscow time) towards Spitsbergen caused a stir in Russia. 

Black Brant XII.

Black Brant XII. Legion Media / ZUMA Press

Equipped with scientific equipment to study the aurora borealis, the Black Brant XII was similar in size to the nuclear-powered American Trident D-5 ballistic missile, intended for launch from submarines. In addition, it flew along a trajectory along which, as the Russian Defense Ministry believed, American missiles would fly in the event of a nuclear war. 

In December 1994, Norway informed 28 states, including Russia, about the planned launch, but did not give a specific date, limiting itself to specifying the period: from January 15 to February 10 of the next year. Due to bureaucratic delays, this information did not reach the Russian Missile Warning System, which sounded the alarm.

Decisive minutes

An emergency meeting with the country’s top political and military leadership was convened in the Kremlin. Defense Minister Pavel Grachev, Chief of the General Staff Mikhail Kolesnikov and President of the Russian Federation (as Supreme Commander-in-Chief) Boris Yeltsin had three strategic missile forces control terminals activated – the so-called nuclear suitcases.

Vladimir Sayapin / TASS

The military believed the lone missile could have been fired to create an electromagnetic pulse that knocked out Russian radars and communications systems. Following it, a massive blow could be expected.

For several tense minutes, as leaders watched it flight, it was decided whether Russia would launch a nuclear strike against the United States. 

“Little is known today about what Yeltsin said at the time, given that it could have been some of the most dangerous moments in the entire history of the nuclear era,” The Washington Post journalist, David Hoffman wrote three years after the incident : “They make it clear that the Cold War nuclear readiness system continues to operate, and how catastrophic its consequences could be, despite the fact that the feud between the great powers is already over.”   

The situation was discharged only when it became clear that the rocket had gone towards Spitsbergen (not far from which it fell into the ocean). The nuclear cases have been deactivated. Russian President Boris Yeltsin (center) and Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev (right).

Russian President Boris Yeltsin (center) and Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev (right). Igor Mikhalev / Sputnik

The incident with bringing Russia’s Strategic Nuclear Forces to combat readiness, soon became the property of the world community. When, four years later, the Norwegians were about to repeat their launch of Black Brant XII and reported this to the Russian Foreign Ministry, the US additionally warned all key Russian military departments about it through their channels. As a result, this time there were no unpleasant surprises. 

Source: rbth.com

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Underworld

Germany conducted exercises in case of nuclear war

Bundeswehr / Birthe Brechters

The Bundeswehr with partners in the North Atlantic Alliance ( NATO) trained in operations in a nuclear war.

The German army, together with Italian, Belgian and Dutch colleagues, conducted exercises in the event of a conflict with the use of nuclear weapons.

The location of the exercise “Steadfest Noon” was chosen airbase “Nörfenich”, where the tactical squadron of the Luftwaffe 31 “Boelcke” is located. Together with the Luftwaffe of the Bundeswehr, the air forces of other NATO countries, in particular, Italy, the Netherlands and Belgium, took part in the exercises.

According to a report by Bild, the exercise scenario involved training procedures for safely removing nuclear weapons from storage, delivering ammunition and installing them on aircraft. The training flights took place without nuclear weapons, and in parallel with the aviation exercises at the Büchel airbase, where the tactical squadron of the Luftwaffe 51 Immelman is located, the Resilient Guard air defense systems were trained to protect the airfield from air attacks.

The training sites for the Luftwaffe of the Bundeswehr were not chosen by chance, since the Nörfenich airbase is a reserve storage site for the B61, a hydrogen bomb that forms the basis of nuclear weapons of the US strategic nuclear forces. 

Some of this ammunition is stationed at NATO bases in Europe. The exact number of hydrogen bombs that are stored at European sites and which ones are not reported. In Europe, the B61 is carried by Panavia Tornado fighter-bombers (pictured) and General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon fighters.

Recall that the B61 thermonuclear bomb is the main weapon of the US strategic nuclear forces, although it entered service in 1968. Since 2012, a new guided version of the B61-12 has been under development, which will replace all B61 and B83 bombs that have been in service since 1983. It can be used both on strategic bombers and tactical aircraft. About two billion dollars were spent on the development of the 12th modification of the aerial bomb.

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Underworld

The Pentagon wants to use 5G for military purposes

© Al Drago; George Frey/Reuters

The US military has partnered with more than a dozen companies for “large-scale experiments” with 5G technology, including efforts to increase the “lethality” of certain systems, as part of a $ 600 million project. 

Duplicating 5G technology as the “Founding Tool for Modernizing All US Defense,” the Pentagon announced a massive research initiative on Thursday that will donate hundreds of millions of dollars to 15 private contractors to conduct tests at five US military sites.

 “The Department of Defense today announced a $ 600 million award for 5G experiments and testing at five US military training grounds, representing the world’s largest full-scale 5G trials for dual-use applications,” the Pentagon said in a statement that it will bring together experts from multiple industries and disciplines. 

Projects will include piloting 5G-enabled augmented / virtual reality for mission planning and training, testing 5G-enabled smart warehouses, and evaluating 5G technologies to improve distributed management and control.

Selected for the project include telecommunications companies AT&T, Nokia and Ericsson, exploration and information technology contractor Booz-Allen Hamilton, research arm of General Electric, GE Research and a subsidiary of aerospace giant General Dynamics.

One initiative, led by AT&T at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, will apply 5G to its “Distributed Command and Control” system to “Assist in lethality in the air, space and cyberspace”, improving communications for mobile command posts in combat scenarios. At the Lewis-McCord joint base in Washington State, AT&T will also work with Booz-Allen and two other firms to develop 5G-enabled virtual reality technology for training, mission planning, and even Operational Use. 

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