SMC’s Innovation at DEFCON 28- Hacking a Satellite Space Challenge Event

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  • Space and Missile Systems Center

LOS ANGELES AIR FORCE BASE, Calif—Teams from the Space and Missile Systems Center’s Special Programs Directorate and Enterprise Corps were vital assets to this year’s DEFCON 28 Space Security Challenge, “Hack-A-Sat,” event that occurred virtually during the qualifications rounds on May 22nd-24th and during the final event this past weekend, Aug.7th-9th.   


DEFCON is a unique security conference that offers networking, interactive and hands-on education for the vast security researcher ecosystem, including hobbyists and professionals alike. In the past, researchers from all over the world attend this conference every year and were able to be acquainted with avionics and satellite systems.  This year, SMC, in partnership with the Air Force Research Lab, Aerospace Corporation and Defense Digital Service Agency participated in the DEFCON Aerospace Village. This partnership allowed for activities featured for even the most novice researcher to learn about the technical intricacies of aerospace systems.


The final event for DEFCON 28 was scheduled to occur in Las Vegas, Nevada this year. However, conference officials cancelled the in-person event due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This drove the entire conference to pivot rapidly to a virtual event.  SMC’s team adapted their participation and execution plan to meet and exceed the conference’s virtual requirements and goals.


“It’s been a truly awesome experience getting to work with so many brilliant people from all kinds of organizations and companies. I’m thankful to my leadership for supporting the team and our work towards DEFCON 28,” said Capt. Aaron Bolen, Special Program’s DEFCON project lead.   


During the final event – the Hack-A-Sat Capture the Flag (CTF) cybersecurity challenge - the team provided security researchers with two highly advanced challenges which empowered more advanced knowledge and critical thinking of how to design and implement more resilient and protected space system architectures and space operations.  The top three winning teams received monetary awards totaling $100,000.   


“It was a great experience working with many different organizations across the Air and Space Force to develop an innovative way to help solve cybersecurity challenges in the space enterprise. I want to give a special thanks to Lt. Ryan and Mr. Rodio who worked endlessly behind the scenes to make this event possible and my leadership for their support during the whole process,” said Capt. Alexandra Preiss, Enterprise Corps cross mission ground’s DEFCON project lead.




The Space and Missile Systems Center is the U.S. Space Force's center of excellence for acquiring and developing military space systems. SMC’s portfolio includes space launch, global positioning, military space vehicle communications, defense meteorological space vehicles, range systems, space vehicle control networks, space-based infrared systems, and space situational awareness capabilities.


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