As Europe and the world are still reeling from the internet hack at the Dutch SSL CA agent Diginotar, authorities all over the world are trying to answer the question: what will the wider consequences of this attack be, and who was responsible? Meanwhile, in space, similar attacks take place: instances of satellite jamming, the deliberate interruption of, for instance, TV- and radio signals, are decidedly increasing. The latest victim: BBC Persian, whose transmissions were interfered with several times through installations on the territory of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Previously, Radio Zamaneh has been repeatedly attacked in similar fashion.
Internet hacking and satellite jamming are expressly forbidden by national and international legislation. In the case of satellite jamming, for instance, a member-state can be banned from the ITU (International Telecommunication Union). As always, the problem is: proof. Because it is not that easy to determine that a sovereign state, rather than a few individuals, were responsible for the intentional disturbance of peaceful internet and satellite communications.
Nevertheless, The Islamic Republic of Iran is at the top of everyone’s list of suspects, it being the country from which most major recent hacking and jamming attempts that caught the public eye originated. In recent years, the Iranian authorities have invested heavily in acquiring the right expertise and technology. In the case of satellite jamming, it is usually easy enough to establish form where exactly the attack took place; in the cases of BBC Persian and Radio Zamaneh for instance, it was proven convincingly that the jamming took place from inside Iran’s borders. With internet hacking, things are not always that simple. Still, in the Diginotar-case, the pile of evidence pointing toward Iran has been stacked up so high that a link with Iran is as good as certain.
The political question that needs to be posed now is: what should Europe’s response be to this increasing digital and outer space aggression?
The answer could well be: return the favour to the aggressor, if a case against a state actor, for example Iran, can be made. Remove his TV- and radio signals from the skies, and ban his websites from the internet. The Iranian state uses public satellites and the internet for its own communications as well. Iranian state media like IRIB transmit on the very same satellites that are used by independent and opposition media. The Iranian government and state media have websites too. Even the Iranian banking system is highly dependent on satellites for its communications.
Satellite and internet providers are bound by legal agreements. They need European decisions on sanctions to be able to break their contracts. And the recent case of Libya, where Eutelsat broke off transmissions of the pro-Kadhaffi state-TV when Europe asked them to, indicates that satellite operators and internet providers are likely to comply when a political decision tells them to. Meanwhile though, some free advice to satellite operators: put state media on the same transponder as independent media. That way, when a country tries to jam free media, they jam themselves in the process. Just a suggestion.
The European Union should quickly put a strict and decisive mechanism of sanctions in place to punish communication criminals. Take out their channels for telecommunication and information as soon as one can reasonably assume that the internet or satellite attack was driven by a state actor. Let’s make Iran fight its cyber war with its proper counterpart: Iran.