Japan proposing hack-proof satellite system

TOKYO • Japan's Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry is considering a plan to develop a communications system to prevent cyber attacks that target satellites.

The system will feature dynamic encryption of data transfers between satellites and their terrestrial stations, making it more difficult to decode such data even when it is intercepted by unauthorised parties, the Washington Post reported.

With the proposed plan, the government aims to establish a secure communications network that is unique to Japan, for domestic security purposes and to spur investment in the private- sector aerospace industry.

The system will be designed to transmit codes using lasers and code generators installed on satellites.

The project - combining government, industry and academic institutions - aims to commercialise the system in five to 10 years.

Other than those for military satellites and others with big budgets, countermeasures against cyber attacks on satellites have progressed slowly.

The United States found that some of its satellites had been hacked, resulting in data theft, while in other cases control of its Earth observation satellites was disrupted. In 2014, a US weather monitoring network was disrupted and rendered unusable for a period of time, the Post said.

Satellites send data to terrestrial base stations using radio waves. The data is vulnerable to unauthorised interception by third parties due to the wide transmission area inherent in satellite broadcasting.

Hackers who are able to decode the encrypted data can stage cyber attacks on satellites and may even be able to manipulate its control or intercept data. Furthermore, many satellites have no form of data encryption.

To address this problem, the ministry will install a code generator on satellites so the device can dynamically encrypt data, the Post said.

China last August launched the world's first quantum satellite in an effort to harness the power of particle physics to build an "unhackable" system of encrypted communications.

The satellite will be used in experiments to test the viability of quantum technology to communicate over long distances.

Unlike traditional secure communication methods, China's proposed system uses particles called photons to send the encryption keys necessary to decode information, Xinhua reported at the time.

The data contained in the bursts of sub-atomic particles is impossible to intercept. Any attempts at eavesdropping will cause them to self-destruct, letting users know that their communications have been compromised.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 03, 2017, with the headline 'Japan proposing hack-proof satellite system'. Print Edition | Subscribe