A leaked US intelligence report claims China is building sophisticated cyber weapons to “seize control” of enemy satellites and knock out their ability to relay signals and send orders to sophisticated weapons systems in a conflict.

The report states the Chinese action is designed to enable them to make satellites they target useless for data signals or surveillance during wartime. The leaked document comes as war in Ukraine and continuing tensions between China and Taiwan highlight the importance of intelligence gathering from space.

General B Chance Saltzman, commander of the US Space Force, told Congress last month: “China continues to aggressively invest in technology meant to disrupt, degrade and destroy our space capabilities.”

Saltzman said China’s military had deployed 347 satellites, including 35 launched in the past six months, aimed at monitoring, tracking, targeting and attacking US forces in any future conflict.

Charlie Moore, a retired Air Force general who served as deputy of US cyber command, said China was making huge efforts to counter the advantage that the US had in the cyber and space domains.

Moore, now a visiting professor at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee: explained: “China understands the superiority that the United States has in the space and cyber domains, so they are very interested in not only improving their own capabilities but in capitalising on what we refer to as a first-mover advantage in both domains.

“They are working on all the capabilities that they want to have from a defensive and offensive standpoint, and from an ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] standpoint. They’re firing on all cylinders.”

The US leak states that China’s push to develop capabilities to “deny, exploit or hijack” enemy satellites is a core part of its goal to control information, which Beijing considers to be a key “war-fighting domain”.

The CIA-marked document, which was issued this year and has been reviewed by the Financial Times, was one of dozens allegedly shared by a 21-year-old US Air Guardsman in the most significant American intelligence disclosures in more than a decade.

Russia has deployed cyber units in the war with Ukraine with these attacks, first developed in the 1980s, attempting to drown out signals between low-orbit SpaceX satellites and their on-ground terminals by broadcasting on similar frequencies from truck-borne jamming systems such as the Tirada-2.

US intelligence experts believe China’s more ambitious cyber-attacks will aim to mimic the signals that enemy satellites receive from their operators, tricking them into either being taken over completely or malfunctioning during crucial moments in combat.

The  FT reported the classified US document said this would allow China “to seize control of a satellite, rendering it ineffective to support communications, weapons, or intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance systems”.

Taiwan is seeking to build out communications infrastructure that can survive an attack from China. It is reportedly courting investors to establish its own satellite provider, while experimenting with non-geostationary satellite receivers in 700 locations around Taiwan to guarantee bandwidth in the event of war or disasters.

A Russian cyber-attack succeeded in rendering thousands of Ukrainian military routers from US-based Viasat ineffective in the hours before it launched its full-scale invasion on February 24 last year. A Ukrainian official described the attack at the time as “catastrophic”.

It also knocked out service to thousands of Viasat customers in Poland, Italy and Germany, where several hundred wind turbines were affected. The Viasat hack involved breaking into the company’s computer systems and sending out instructions to the modems that caused them to malfunction.

The cyber (re)insurance market is seeking diversification in risk acceptance and appetite. Lloyd’s has mandated to avoid state backed cyber-attacks due to the perceived systemic issues this can create, whereas this strategy hasn’t yet being fully adopted in the company insurance market, nor the parametric markets.

Risk managers seeking to buy or enhance their cyber insurance protection ought to consult with a specialist cyber insurance broker with wide international market reach. Cyber exposures are evolving and it is important that businesses review their insurances, for suitability, using a specialist broker. To discuss this further with a broker at W Denis, please make arrangements with Daniel Moss at daniel.moss@wdenis.co.uk or on 0044 (0)113 2439812 or contact Mark Dutton at mark.dutton@wdenis.co.uk or on 0044 (0) 7831 366 469.

Specialist contact

Mark Dutton

Executive Director / Group Head of Broking & Business Development

T. ‭+44 (0)113 2439812

E. mark.dutton@wdenis.co.uk

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