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Sri Lankan Terrorists Hack Satellite 330

SorryTomato writes "The Tamil Tigers Liberation Front a separatist group in Sri Lanka, which has been classified as a terrorist group in 32 countries has moved up from routine sea piracy to a space-based one. They have been accused of illegally using Intelsat satellites to beam radio and television broadcasts internationally. Intelsat says that they will end the transmissions 'within days.' Intelsat has been accused of having business links with Hezbollah before, but claim that they are blameless this time and LTTE was using an empty transponder."
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Sri Lankan Terrorists Hack Satellite

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  • ... to add 'Tin Foil Hats' to our anti-terrorist kits. At least the duct tape won't be lonely anymore.

    warning: The above content may test positive for sarcasm and/or could be a failed attempt at humor and as such should be taken with a pound of salt.
    • ... to add 'Tin Foil Hats' to our anti-terrorist kits. At least the duct tape won't be lonely anymore.

      Don't forget the Vasoline.

  • Properganda (Score:2, Insightful)

    No doubt the transmissions are being used to attemp to justify the illegal war being waged. Very Foxey! I wonder where they got that idea from?
  • How? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by wesmills ( 18791 ) on Friday April 13, 2007 @06:17AM (#18715981) Homepage
    OK, because at least someone on Slashdot knows, I have to ask: how would they do this? Is there some form of access key or security needed to uplink to a transponder, or is it simply a matter of finding the right satellite and frequency? I would hope that the latter is not true, but "security by obscurity" is a well-known (amusingly) procedure in many companies..
    • Re:How? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Frogbert ( 589961 ) <{frogbert} {at} {}> on Friday April 13, 2007 @06:31AM (#18716041)
      The satellite was configured to retransmit on certain channels, the LTE simply beamed up a signal on a channel that wasn't in use but was configured to retransmit if something was being sent to it.
    • Re:How? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by mangu ( 126918 ) on Friday April 13, 2007 @07:23AM (#18716307)
      at least someone on Slashdot knows, I have to ask: how would they do this? Is there some form of access key or security needed to uplink to a transponder, or is it simply a matter of finding the right satellite and frequency?

      I know, because I work for a satellite company. Communications satellites normally have no protection at all, if you know the right frequency, have a powerful enough transmitter and antenna, and know where to point your signal, you can do it. And it's *extremely* difficult to avoid, there are very few technical countermeasures. You can beam a more powerful carrier over the pirate, but this means you lose the bandwidth anyhow and, in case of an intentional interference, the pirate can just shift his frequency and start over.

      It happens all the time accidentally. Sometimes amplifiers are defective, or they are inadvertently turned to the wrong frequency. These accidental interferences happen everywhere, and cost millions of dollars per year for every operator in terms of bandwidth that becomes unusable.

      Since a satellite has a wide coverage area, it's very difficult to find the transmitter. There are some very expensive systems to locate interferences, they work based on small shifts in frequency and time that depend on the transmitter location, but these systems cannot locate a transmitter with an accuracy better than tens of miles. After finding the general area where the interference originates, one must sweep the whole region with a helicopter equipped with a directional antenna. Very messy and very expensive.

      • Re:How? (Score:4, Informative)

        by mangu ( 126918 ) on Friday April 13, 2007 @07:37AM (#18716413)
        Just adding some links to my post, this is one of the systems used to locate interferences []. Of course, in the marketing they present one of the most accurate results they have, normally the precision is not that good. And that same company also does the final search [] for the interfering transmitter.
      • by asninn ( 1071320 )

        Communications satellites normally have no protection at all, if you know the right frequency, have a powerful enough transmitter and antenna, and know where to point your signal, you can do it.

        Interesting! Gives a whole new meaning to "hacking" (as in "Sri Lankan terrorists hack satellite"), too...

      • Re:How? (Score:4, Informative)

        by AK Marc ( 707885 ) on Friday April 13, 2007 @02:16PM (#18721767)
        Communications satellites normally have no protection at all,

        Yes, I have "hacked" a satellite before. Temporary bandwidth is expensive. Just point to a satellite (not hard to find them), plug in a spectrum analyzer and see where there are blank spaces. Put your carrier up there. Call your friend. Have them set their receive to there. Repeat for the return link. Turn it down within a week. Leave it off for a week. Try again. You will never be found. If you were found, nothing would happen to you. I only used it for a very short-term test when my provider was having trouble finding me test space, and no one ever noticed. If you have the gear for a satellite link and a spectrum analyzer, you can "hack" just about any commercial satellite. It isn't security through obscurity. It's a complete lack of security.
    • by Detritus ( 11846 )
      There is no access key. The transponder simply takes what comes into the receiver in a specific frequency band, shifts the frequency, and retransmits it. Most of the security is derived from the difficulty and expense of constructing and operating an earth station. One transponder can be shared among many users. Proper operation of the transponder is dependent on the users voluntarily following the rules regarding frequency, bandwidth and power level. An incompetent or hostile user can effectively jam the t
    • There is typically no security at all on either the up or downlinks of commercial satellites. (Station keeping uplinks are encrypted pretty good though) Transponders generally operate over a wide bandwidth so it is not feasible just to switch one off as it would also switch off many (sometimes hundreds or thousands of) paying customers. Usually the best that can be done to prevent unwanted signals is to try and drown them out with a higher SNR, though on a heavily loaded satellite this is sometimes not poss
  • Not really suprising (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 13, 2007 @06:20AM (#18715995)
    Hacks of satellites have been predicted by experts numerous times before; the older ones were, rather worryingly, designed mostly with security by obscurity. Need uplink codes? Probably not a problem if you can get near to the ground station with appropriate equipment, no radio transmission is 100% directional.

    IIRC it was one of the Blackhat conference speakers who outlined the nasty possibility of a satellite somewhere in a geosynchronous constellation being hijacked and deliberately crashed into another one. Given that this area is fairly densely populated, the debris could start a chain reaction and do a lot of damage.
  • by remmelt ( 837671 ) on Friday April 13, 2007 @06:21AM (#18715997) Homepage
    What, right after you pick the kids up from school, have a cup of coffee, do the dishes, visit granny, contemplate what to have for dinner?

    We are surrounded by incompetence. Dilbert, save us!
  • Not original.... (Score:5, Informative)

    by afa ( 801481 ) on Friday April 13, 2007 @06:43AM (#18716097) Homepage
    F@-lun gong hacked SinoSat from Taiwan to broadcast their propaganda program to mainland china.

    To read more: +sinosat+hack []
    • Presumably you spelled it F@-lun in order to evade the Great Firewall... but then in the URL you link to it's there plain as day. I think some Chinese censorware admin needs to update a little :-)
  • This story ( 12/1755218 []) about a DoD router in space says they're contracting with IntelSat.

    According to this story, they've a) been hacked and b) have links to Hezbolah.

    Why would our government involve a company that's incompetent and has links to terrori...

    ...never mind.

  • by Rik Sweeney ( 471717 ) on Friday April 13, 2007 @07:22AM (#18716301) Homepage
    That hijacking a satellite is a pretty cool thing to do. Go on, imagine the scenario in a 4 Yorkshire Men style...

    Terrorist 1: We hijacked an armoured vehicle!
    Terrorist 2: That's nothing! We hijacked a boat!
    Terrorist 3: Amateurs! We highjacked a plane!
    Terrorist 4: We highjacked a satellite

    Terrorist 1: And you try to tell the young people about that, they won't believe you!
    Terrorist 3: They won't!
  • Some basic facts: (Score:5, Interesting)

    by 140Mandak262Jamuna ( 970587 ) on Friday April 13, 2007 @07:50AM (#18716513) Journal
    The state adjacent to Sri Lanka in India is also populated by Tamils. The State government is very sympathetic to the Tigers in Sri Lanka. Most parties in that state notionally support the Sri Lankan Tamils, even the Congress party whose leader and ex-Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by the Tigers. The current ruling party of that state was a pioneer in using Sattelite TV transmissions and owns many TV channels. When the TV was a Govt of India's monopoly (in the 1990s), that party used to make TV programes in Chennai, India, and send the tape to Phillipines and uplink from that country. That TV network, SunTV, and its sister channels are heavily infiltrated by the Tiger Cadres and sympathizers. I am very sure the hijack is done with active help and collusion of SunTV conglomerate insiders on the technical divistion.

    It might not have been approved by the higher ups either in the family/party. India's Minister for Communication Kalanidhi Maran, is a nephew of the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu and their family owns the SunTV conglomerate. Tigers are to be feared, their pledge of alligiance to their leader Prabakaran supercedes any other consideration.

    Trying hard to present NPoV without my biases. Hope I succeeded.

  • Hack Arr... (Score:4, Funny)

    by lixee ( 863589 ) on Friday April 13, 2007 @08:06AM (#18716629)
    These guys ARE pirates and hackers!!!!! I feel membership applications are gonna flow from the /. community...
  • Bill Gibson is probably having himself a nice drink right about now.
  • by Eevee ( 535658 ) on Friday April 13, 2007 @08:16AM (#18716697)

    According to Asian Tribune, the satellite channel [] was part of the ceasefire agreement between the LTTE and the government of Sri Lanka. Since Ranil Wickremasinghe [] hasn't been Prime Minister of Sri Lanka since 2004, this agreement that LTTE could broadcast obviously isn't exactly new.

    Speculation time:

    Some people are claiming that the LTTE is paying [] for the broadcasts. It sounds like someone at Intelsat may have accepted a contract based on the ceasefire agreement, only to get burned now that a different political party is in charge in Sri Lanka.

  • Bent pipes... (Score:3, Informative)

    by flyingfsck ( 986395 ) on Friday April 13, 2007 @10:01AM (#18717755)
    There is little hacking involved. Most older satellites are simple 'bent pipes' which transponds everything it receives on one frequency onto another frequency. So if you are in the antenna footprint of the ground station, you can use that satellite and there is nothing the owners can do to stop you.
  • by ryanhornbeck ( 946367 ) on Friday April 13, 2007 @10:21AM (#18718031) Homepage
    As a satellite network controller, I disagree with your post: 1) They didn't HACK anything. The obtained ephemeris data from some online website, and pointed an antenna at the satellite. 2) Satellites have predicted channel allocations. There's a huge database containing the predicted signal levels, filtering, datarates and modulation techniques. If an unauthorized access occurs, the satellite network controllers see it instantly. 3) The only thing a satellite controller can do to negate an unauthorized user is reallocate the beamweights of the footprint to exclude the transmission area. Sure, this may work in Sri Lanka (where I've worked, by the by), but if someone in the US wanted to do the same thing, do you really think Intelsat would create 0dB directive gain in Virginia? I don't think so. Read up on satellite operations. It'll amaze you how little control controllers actually have.
  • Hello:

    Why don't the satelite companies have digital signatures, just like PGP?

    The uplink (signal from ground to the bird) is encrypted (or signed) with a private key.

    The bird attempts to decrypt the signal with it's public key. It then ensures that the signal can be
    decrypted. If the incorrect private key is used in the uplink signal, the bird's transponder would not
    be able to decrypt it.

    If the bird cannot decrypt the signal, it would throw the signal away and perhaps
    initiate a direction finding on the signa

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Fastolfe ( 1470 )
      The satellites that carry a lot of the TV and telephone transmissions are decades old. They simply aren't capable of doing any of this, and it's impractical to attempt to upgrade them. You can put measures like this in newer communications satellites that go up, but those old satellites aren't going anywhere, and so long as they're still running, it's not economical to abandon them.

      It's always been assumed that it would be cost-prohibitive for random malcontents to obtain access to the hardware needed to

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