China’s Cyber Capabilities Are Expanding to Capture or Disrupt Satellites

by | May 4, 2023

As concerns about a battle over Taiwan continue to percolate, the world is learning that China is developing cyber capabilities aimed at capturing or disrupting the satellites of its opponents.

While there are means currently available to both hack satellites and disrupt their signals, what China is developing would be a major step forward in terms of space warfare. The information comes from the classified information leaked by a member of the National Guard.

Satellite attacks threaten transportation, utilities and other non-military targets

Both Russia and China have been investing in anti-satellite weaponry and measures in recent years, according to recent comments from the US Space Force. Present capabilities involve light interference directed at satellite cameras, jamming of radio communications, ground-based missiles, and special assault satellites meant to knock others out of orbit.

The cyber capabilities that China is reportedly developing are a step beyond this current deck of options. They involve directly intercepting and fabricating the signals that satellites use to communicate, allowing remote hacking that does not involve going through well-defended control systems. The news comes as various intelligence reports and sources indicate that China is giving serious consideration to an invasion of Taiwan sometime in roughly the next five years, and potentially as early as next year.

Satellites are widely considered a military target, and a number of nations have formally declared that an attack on them could prompt a military response. But they are also very frequently attacked by pseudo-anonymous sources (state-backed hacking teams) via a combination of present cyber capabilities and physical attempts to disrupt communications.

Chinese cyber capabilities could be used to take over satellites

Russia is currently using a fairly old and much more primitive version of satellite attacks in Ukraine, and while accurate information about the conflict is hard to come by the general word is that this decades-old technology is not working all that well. So if China can achieve the cyber capabilities it is pursuing, it could give them a substantial advantage in both espionage and war.

In terms of space capability, China has a long way to go to catch up with the US. However, it has substantial resources already in place and is throwing a lot of money at growing rapidly in this area, looking to be the dominant power in space by 2045. Reports by the US military branches to Congress indicate that China sees domination of space as a way to even things up with its chief rival in terms of warfighting capability. The primary function of a military satellite is to expand vision (and detect incoming forces and weapons), so the main utility of disrupting them is in blinding the enemy, but a captured satellite could potentially be used to disrupt utilities, domestic phone and internet communications, air traffic control and even farming operations.

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