back to article Uncle Sam wants DEF CON hackers to pwn this Moonlighter satellite in space

Assuming the weather and engineering gods cooperate, a US government-funded satellite dubbed Moonlighter will launch at 1212 EDT (1612 UTC) on Sunday, hitching a ride on a SpaceX rocket before being releasing into Earth's orbit. And in roughly two months, five teams of DEF CON hackers will do their best to successfully …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Why do it for $50k?

    Urm... the institutions mentioned in the article are not exactly humanitarian organisations, so why would somebody actually capable of doing this do it for measly 50k? That sort of $$$ doesn't even get you a decent car these days, not to mention cost of living & inflation.

    I'm sure there are organisations worldwide prepared to offer many, many times more for such service.

    1. Arthur the cat Silver badge

      Re: Why do it for $50k?

      The kudos of hacking an actual, in orbit satellite. The money's just a nice extra. I'm surprised you have to ask.

  2. An_Old_Dog Silver badge


    "It's all fine, it runs in a VM, on VirtualSquare version 7.3.2."

    "Uhhh ... you know there's a CVE out on that, right? Is the hypervisor patched?"

    "... Crap."

    1. Blazde Silver badge

      Re: "Sandboxing"

      I'm assuming the 'qualifying' round was really a vetting process to weed out the majority of hackers who just wouldn't be able to stop themselves hacking right past a sandbox during a once-in-a-lifetime satellite hackathon. For the kudos. For the fun. For the challenge. And most of all because The (space)Man told you not to.

  3. zb42

    It is expected to be at an altitude of between 465 km and 500 km.

    That means that from where you happen to be on the earths surface it will be above the horizon and in radio range once or twice a day for 30 seconds to a couple of minutes depending on how close to you it gets, how high up you can get your antenna and the terrain around you blocking some of your view of the sky.

    1. Nifty Silver badge

      I have an idea. How about inventing some sort of network that enables devices around the globe to link together to keep a constant connection to an orbiting satellite. Let's call it the Interweb or something.

  4. Ideasource Bronze badge

    So whatever hacker team can escape the sandbox and disable or take control of the fundamentals outside the sandbox wins?

    That's pretty cool competition.

    I wonder if they're all going to go for the gold or if some will be fooled by the social engineering aspect that suggests they stop and stay within the sandbox.

    I like the psychological intrigue involved in this to truly win there is a strong risk you won't get paid.

    Well the hackers be fooled or goaded into limiting themselves for cash? Or will they see through the words and measure the situation to realize a full win requires complete pwning/disablement of the satellite, without being removed from the competition from a legal standpoint before achieving that win.

  5. Claptrap314 Silver badge

    Sounds like a job...

    for Sandbox Escaper!

  6. MachDiamond Silver badge

    Money spent

    I hope some thought was put into deorbiting the satellite when this experiment is finished. Cube sats are just as dangerous as any other piece of junk in orbit. There are plenty of obsolete satellites that are still functional on orbit whose functions have been replaced by newer birds. I think it would make more sense to use those as hacking targets as they'll often be more representative of what could be targeting in a hostile attack.

    1. zb42

      Re: Money spent

      There are more details in the Moonlighter Mission Statement pdf.

      They predict that it will deorbit after 1.5 years.

  7. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    I wonder how long it'll take

    I wonder how long it'll take? I recall, like 15-20 years ago, the military having a remote controlled tank that they were quite sure was secure, and had some people poke at it to make sure (expecting nobody to get in). Someone got full control in I think 15 minutes.

  8. TRT Silver badge

    *grabs infiltrator flight suit*

    *heads for Cobra Mk IV on pad 3*

    Back in a tick.

  9. Lazlo Woodbine

    Is this like the other hacking competitions, and the successful team wins the hardware?

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