Satellite hacking challenge shifts to fully virtual event

  • Published
  • Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs

The Department of the Air Force and Defense Digital Service planned satellite hacking challenge, the Space Security Challenge 2020: Hack-A-Sat, is pivoting to an entirely virtual event. This decision comes after DEF CON 28 formally cancelled in-person events in 2020 due to coronavirus precautions.

The two-phase hacking challenge includes an online qualification event held from May 22-24 and a final virtual event scheduled for Aug. 7-9. During the final, participants will be challenged to reverse-engineer representative ground-based and on-orbit satellite system components to overcome planted “flags” or software code. The top three teams to overcome the most flags will win prize money for their contribution to the research community.

Despite a transition to an all online event, the Air Force, Space Force, and DDS will continue partnering with DEF CON’s Aerospace Village to virtually showcase the team’s mission: build a diverse community committed to promoting and developing aerospace cybersecurity expertise and knowledge through positive collaboration among all stakeholders. The satellite hacking challenge itself is designed to focus security researcher’s skills and creativity on solving aerospace system cyber security challenges.

“We’re working very closely with DEF CON and the Aerospace Village leaders to flip this turn of events with COVID-19 restrictions into something that highlights this community’s unique abilities. Our close partnership is opening the civilian, commercial, and defense apertures for understanding and mitigating cyber aerospace risks like never before. It’s fundamental that we collectively create a new era where cyber security is no longer a given because it’s developed in secrecy. Being part of the DEF CON community and learning from its experts to pinpoint vulnerabilities before they’re exposed in battle will keep our troops safer,” said Dr. Will Roper, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics. “We also have a lot of opportunities to share that will make DEF CON’s virtual Aerospace Village a fantastic place to learn and grow.”

In addition to the virtual Hack-A-Sat events, all partners are teaming up to provide virtual instructional and educational experiences for spectators interested in learning more about aerospace systems and cybersecurity as part of the Aerospace Village.

“Our plan is to meet every type of consumer at the device they are on and provide them with an immersive, educational and engaging experience throughout the three-day event,” said Brett Goldstein, Defense Digital Service director.

Through all of the COVID-19 challenges, the civilian and government teams have maintained their commitment to the planners', participants' and attendees' safety.

“Though a virtual village is not ideal, our top priority is and will always be the health and safety of our community,” added Pete Cooper, DEF CON’s Aerospace Village director.

Future updates and frequently asked questions on Hack-A-Sat events and additional virtual experiences will be posted to or to