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You can win $50,000 if you successfully hack a US government satellite

Sebastian Cahill   

You can win $50,000 if you successfully hack a US government satellite
  • "Hack-A-Sat" is holding its fourth annual competition at the DEF CON conference in Las Vegas.
  • The contest is sponsored by the US government and has a prize of $50,000.

It seems counterintuitive for the US government to cheer on hackers targeting its satellites, but that's just what's happening this weekend at Hack-A-Sat 4.

The "Hack-A-Sat," founded by the US Space Force and Air Force, is a capture-the-flag-like contest usually consisting of qualification and final events, according to its details, during which hackers use hardware that simulates breaking into a real-life satellite and gaining access to its data.

The contest was initially dreamed up in the hopes of bettering defenses against threats to cybersecurity increasingly faced by the US government — especially from potentially hostile foreign powers — by allowing the government to observe how hackers would attack and beef up its understanding of advanced hacking.

For the first time, this year's iteration of the competition will have hackers working to break into the Space Force satellite Moonlighter, a test satellite designed as a "hacking sandbox" that will allow advanced analysis of cybersecurity threats.

During the competition, hackers work frantically to break into the Moonlighter satellite to gain access to its data while fighting off the other teams from attacking their own systems, according to the contest details.

The first-place team will win $50,000, the second-place team will win $30,000, and the third-place team will take home $20,000.

According to an interview with Space Force Capt. Kevin Bernert given to Politico, the government hopes the competition will creatively involve a wide variety of people skilled in cyber networks.

"We don't want to just be a big, monolithic organization," said Bernert to Politico. "We want to get as many people smartly involved. And so the long-term impact in that is to understand that you have to bake in cybersecurity — you don't just bolt it on afterwards."

Five teams have made it to the final round, including Poland Can Into Space, last year's winning team. Winners of this year's competition will be announced on Sunday.

The Air Force, Space Force, and Bernert did not immediately respond to requests for comment sent outside regular business hours.

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