Cozying up to commercial industry for access

TL;DR – Turksat, a Turkish company that provides satellite TV and communications services, launched its first domestically built satellite yesterday on a SpaceX Falcon9 rocket.


When I read this article, my mind went immediately to the tactics used by Chinese intelligence services to penetrate western and U.S. businesses to steal trade secrets and develop more broad intelligence collection capabilities. There are countless methods utilized to engage in this behavior but a primary access vector is to leverage the necessarily intimate entanglements that partnering business entities must develop for effective collaboration.

In a case like this, Turksat and SpaceX would have created significant data sharing agreements and whole pipelines and platforms dedicated to providing the two entities secure and trusted methods of communication and collaboration. These would have existed in some format for the ten years (mentioned in the article) through which this plan was in development and continued on into operation once the satellite was launched, as the launch itself would have necessitated connectivity for the customer (Turksat, in this case) to monitor its high stakes product (the satellite payload) during the launch and maneuver into orbit.

Any connectivity like this, including trusted data transfer platforms, shared software packages, and secure communications channels would provide an adversary a unique opportunity to gain a foothold within a target network. Once in the network of an entity like SpaceX, there are a multitude of intelligence targets, including:

  • trade secrets related to SpaceX’s technical operations, which might enable an adversary to develop their own rocket and space technology capabilities;
  • insight into telemetry data used by SpaceX for tracking and controlling space assets that could be mirrored for domestic space-tracking capabilities; and importantly,
  • access to networks of other partners of SpaceX, most critically, secure government networks that SpaceX has connections into by nature of their role as a contractor for the U.S. government on cleared activities.