US Air Force launches $50,000 satellite hacking challenge

Hack-a-Sat challenge will kick off on 22 May and is open to ethical hackers worldwide

The US Air Force is offering $50,000 to help shore up its satellite cyber security as part of an online challenge called Hack-A-Sat.

The event, which kicks off on 22 May with a final round set for August, has been developed in partnership with the US Defense Digital Service, the digital arm of the Department of Defense.

Due to the outbreak of COVID-19, the hackathon has been moved entirely online and aims to help improve cyber security safeguards ahead of the Pentagon's rollout of a satellite constellation network later this year.

The Hack-A-Sat challenge is open to hackers around the world and will begin with a 48-hour 'Capture the Flag' first-round. Participants will be given a set of challenges in one of several categories on a Jeopardy-style board. The first team to solve a challenge has the ability to unlock the next challenge in any given category, with each solved challenge resulting in the competitor retrieving a 'flag'. 'Redemption' of this flag by another team results in points being awarded to the challenger. 

The final will be contested from 7 to 9 August where the top three constants will have the chance to attempt to hack a virtualized satellite and win $50,000, with $30,000 awarded to second and $20,000 for third.

"The democratization of space has opened up a new frontier for exploration and innovation," the Hack-A-Sat website reads. "But with this opportunity, new cyber security vulnerabilities are also being created. One human can design, build and launch a satellite, adhering to very few standards and security protocols. So how can we achieve safe, reliable and trustworthy operations to truly realize the promise of space? ...by hacking a satellite."

The event takes place at the virtual Aerospace Village at DEFCON, which will also host workshops for satellite hacking and avionics.

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