Threat group exploiting hole in satellite security: Report

CISOs have to make sure the service providers they use have secure systems. Now comes word they also have to worry about satellite providers as well.

On Wednesday Kaspersky Labs reported that the Turla cyber-espionage group has found a cheap way to hijack unencrypted satellite-based Internet links, possibly spending as little as US$2,000 a year, to hide command and control servers.

“If this method becomes widespread between APT groups or worse, cyber-criminal groups,” it warns, “this will pose a serious problem for the IT security and counter-intelligence communities.”

“Considering how easy and cheap this method is, it is surprising that we have not seen more APT groups using it.”

But while the technique gives “an unmatched level of anonymity,” Kaspersky admits that for logistical reasons there are advantages to the usual attack methods: Bullet-proof hosting, multiple proxy levels or hacked websites.

Turla isn’t the only APT group that has used satellite-based Internet links, the report adds. HackingTeam, the Xumuxu group and the Rocket Kitten APT group have done it to. What’s interesting is the Turla group’s solution.

In most cases Kaspersky it uses IP address that belong to satellite Internet providers from Middle-Eastern and African countries, which makes it hard for investigators from other countries to track the activities.

Briefly, the technique involves hijacking DVB-S downstream bandwidth from ISPs and packet-spoofing. The tools are a satellite disk, a low-noise block downcoverter, and a dedicated DVB-S tuner (which comes as a PCIe card)

Unlike full duplex satellite-based Internet, says the report, the downstream-only Internet links are used to accelerate Internet downloads and are very cheap and easy to deploy — and insecure because they aren’t encrypted.

The links discovered by Kaspersky used by the Turla group are generally up only several months, it notes. It isn’t clear if it’s because they get caught or it’s the group’s security decision.

Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@]

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