Pentagon embracing SpaceX’s Starfield for future military satcom

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June 11 2024

The Department of Defense (DOD) currently buys Starlink’s commercial internet service but in the future also plans to buy 100+ SpaceX Starshield satellites to contribute to its future satcom architecture. Starshield differs from Starlink because it includes enhanced encryption and other security features. Unlike Starlink that is a commercial service, Starshield would be owned and controlled by the USG.

Colonel Eric Field, director of space architecture at the office of the assistant secretary of the Air force for space acquisition and integration, was impressed by Starlink’s ability to provide service in remote locations, but held concern about the cybersecurity of satellite systems writ large, leading to the plan to buy Starshield satellites. Starshield is also prolific which will be able to provide resiliency.

There are several reasons why a threat actor would be interested in attacking this system. Attackers may be interested in retrieving data from the system or manipulating and changing the data to confuse the user and negatively impact mission success. Potential threat actors who would be interested in these activities include nations, insider threats, hacktivists, and thrill seekers. Nations may be interested in US government activity with its use of the Starshield satellites. The data provided by Starshield could be valuable or advantageous for another nation to have. Insider threats could come from either SpaceX or the DOD if there is interest from an internal user to cause damage to the system.  Hacktivists, or those who break things for social good, may not agree with DOD policies and actions and may feel inclined to cause damage to this system. Thrill seekers seem like a least likely threat in this scenario, but there is the possibility that thrill seekers are interested in attacking this system just because they can.