United States Authorities Warn SpaceX Among Companies Targeted by Espionage Efforts

According to an advisory published by the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, the FBI and the Air Force, SpaceX and Blue Origin could be targets for espionage efforts by China and Russia.

“They see US space-related innovation and assets as potential threats as well as valuable opportunities to acquire vital technologies and expertise,” the advisory says.

The advisory lists aerospace as a major growth industry on a global scale and estimates that it could be worth as much as $1 trillion annually by 2030. It says the United States is a driving force behind aerospace innovation and many military and civilian applications depend on space assets. This includes GPS, communications, emergency services, energy, and agriculture.

SpaceX has already dealt with Russian attacks against its Internet-providing Starlink satellites and shored up their ability to resist signal jamming. It provides satellite Internet connectivity to Ukraine, which it uses to support its defense against the Russian invasion that began in February 2022. Elon Musk has mentioned that providing Internet service in a war zone is expensive, likely because good cybersecurity doesn’t come cheap. However, SpaceX has negotiated a deal with the Pentagon to continue providing Internet access to Ukraine.

Besides potentially angering Russia by providing Internet access to Ukraine, SpaceX began encrypting telemetry data from its rocket launches after some “ham” radio amateurs could intercept and decipher plain-text data and photos from the launches.

Foreign nationals may target SpaceX’s and Blue Origin’s IT infrastructure to uncover intellectual property and other trade secrets that cost the companies time and resources to develop. Fraudulently branded products are already an issue in the world economy. The International Anti-Counterfeiting Coalition estimates that 3.3% of global trade involves counterfeit products.

So SpaceX could reasonably be annoyed by efforts to reverse-engineer Starlink’s signals purely because they could be used to produce counterfeit “Starlink Kits” — even if somebody did figure out how to do something cool like using Starlink as an alternative to GPS. SpaceX has also promoted Starship as a rocket that could become the world’s most powerful launch vehicle once it becomes operational. China would very likely be interested in getting its hands on the technical details.

Like SpaceX, Elon Musk’s other companies such as Tesla have been targets for cybersecurity threats. A Russian national pled guilty to charges related to a case in which he attempted to bribe a Tesla employee to inject ransomware into the company’s IT infrastructure. A “hacktivist” group managed to access the surveillance system at one of Tesla’s facilities. Tesla has also sued former employees such as Martin Tripp and Alex Khatilov for attempts to steal or leak sensitive documents. Many similar incidents are “inside jobs” or social engineering attacks, as demonstrated by cybersecurity expert Kevin Mitnick in the below video.

The advisory encouraged aerospace companies to shore up their cybersecurity to ensure that the United States — and these companies — can remain competitive on the world stage. SpaceX has already demonstrated its ability to act as a backup launch service in case global politics leave companies like OneWeb and space agencies like the ESA scrambling to find alternatives. However, the advisory headlined by the National Counterintelligence and Security Center expressed concern that Russia and China could “cheat” by hacking into SpaceX’s and Blue Origin’s systems and stealing their notes.