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03/18/2005 Archived Entry: "Blowback: NORAD makes satellite system less secure"

A SOURCE WITHIN THE AEROSPACE INDUSTRY sends this news. It appears that NORAD, most likely in pursuit of "security," has just rendered U.S. satellite systems far less secure.

A little piece of news that has not made it mainstream ...

For many many years, NORAD has been supplying the world with TLEs. TLE's (Two Line Element Sets) are the way that people can figure out where their satellite is at any given point in time. The TLE is a 'snapshot' of where a satellite is at a given time. Given this, someone who is equipped with the proper software can propagate the position of the Satellite into the future -- to a point. The accuracy degrades with time, so one needs to get a new ELSET (element set) every couple of weeks.

Many companies download these TLEs and provide them to the world for free.

This practice of redistributing the TLEs is now illegal. As of now, I have to navigate to a website and login with my own info. All they wanted from me to get an account is name and address -- no SS or anything, but now I have to login to get the info.

The satellite community is rather distressed at this.

There is some potential very serious blowback to this action. Obviously, the U.S. government is putting the satellite community on notice that its finger is on the switch. Well, the satellite community is international. Given some reasonable equipment, it is not all that difficult to create your very own elsets from radar data. This is how NORAD does it. Many countries, and many many private companies have the necessary equipment to do this.

Here is the blowback: As of now, the TLEs that we get from NORAD have the elsets for the classified satellites excised. This will almost certainly NOT be the case for other countries.

To get your own eyeful of this little bit, try typing Space Track or Celes-Trak into your favorite search machine.

In a followup message, this insider wrote:

Not sure why they are putting their hands so visibly on the shutoff switch. The Buzzphrase 'National Security Interests' is being tossed about with great abandon.

The issue has been simmering for quite a while, and only recently has it become an issue. Once the main database crashed, it became much more visible.

I should note that the USG has not removed access at this point, although the law clearly allows them to do precisely that. Right now, they are simply not allowing third parties to redistribute the data. And requiring any first parties to identify themselves in a minimal fashion.

http://www.celestrak.com/NORAD/elements/Section913.pdf has a little more info, specifically the law that is responsible for this thing.

What I do not understand is why they are being so open. If national security was their goal, they could just diddle with the TLE data a little. 'Smear' the data so to speak to make it just a little less accurate.

But there is another factor that may be pertinent.....ITAR (International Traffic in Arms Regulation). Certain software can fall under the auspices of ITAR. Orbital Determination software is one of those types. It is this software that someone who possesses a high power radar would use to produce a TLE.

So suppose somebody has a nice high power radar. And they want to create TLE data. They will need to use a piece of software that is export controlled under ITAR. Now I also suppose that folk ... produce this software. It just looks like another layer of control. And of course that is what it is ALL about.

Many people in the private world have had easy access to the TLE data, since it lived on lots of different computers. It would be very easy for many of those folk to alter the data. Not anymore. The database only lives on a computer in gubbmint land somewhere.....

Posted by Claire @ 01:52 PM CST

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