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US Intelligence Issues Warning Amid Space Race with China and Russia

US Intelligence Issues Warning Amid Space Race with China and Russia

Written by Sanjay Kumar

The US intelligence community has issued a warning to the domestic space industry, highlighting the increasing threat of espionage and satellite attacks originating from countries such as China and Russia.

According to a bulletin jointly released by the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the US Air Force on Friday (August 18), American space-related companies are facing potential risks including cyberattacks, strategic investments through joint ventures and acquisitions, as well as targeted disruptions within key supply chain nodes. These tactics are aimed at gaining unauthorized access to the space sector.

The advisory emphasizes that foreign intelligence operations not only jeopardize sensitive company information but also have the potential to disrupt and degrade critical US satellite communication, remote sensing, and imaging capabilities. This cautionary message comes in the wake of recent satellite attacks and a growing recognition of the deep interconnection between the US economy and national security with activities in space.

To counter these threats, the bulletin offers recommendations to space companies. It advises them to carefully monitor and document any anomalies, institute programs designed to uncover insider threats, and exercise caution when receiving invitations from foreign entities or engaging in interactions at conferences and online platforms. Additionally, the warning cautions against unsolicited proposals for joint ventures with companies linked to foreign governments or state-owned enterprises.

Historically, China and Russia have consistently denied allegations of engaging in hacking or other forms of interference with space systems. A spokesperson from China’s embassy in Washington reiterates the country’s commitment to peaceful exploration of outer space for the collective benefit of humanity. On the other hand, the Russian embassy in Washington has yet to respond to inquiries seeking comments on this matter.

The United States is particularly concerned about safeguarding small and midsize satellite companies that might not fully grasp the extent and variety of risks involved. A US counterintelligence official, who chose to remain anonymous, highlights the importance of assisting these entities in enhancing their mitigation strategies and overall resilience.

Notably, even larger satellite companies that have established connections with the government have not been immune to these threats. In 2022, Viasat Inc. fell victim to a cyberattack preceding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The aftermath forced the company to replace over 45,000 modems across Europe and beyond. Similarly, Starlink, a branch of SpaceX (Space Exploration Technologies Corp.), disclosed facing jamming attacks in the course of its efforts to provide service to Ukraine.

In response to these escalating challenges, the US Space Force recently introduced a new targeting unit specifically aimed at addressing threats posed by adversaries in space and at ground stations. This unit is tasked with safeguarding the integrity of US satellite systems within space itself.

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