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Cybersecurity analysts find Fancy Bear sniffing around US satellite network

What just happened? What do government-sponsored cybersecurity criminals and cocaine-loving bears have in common? The unarguable fact that we’d all prefer not to cross either one in the wild without warning or preparation. Fortunately, we only have to worry about one of these as a real threat. Unfortunately, it’s a threat that can wreak havoc on daily life around the world if left unaddressed. If you’re still not sure which is which then here’s a hint: it’s not the bear on drugs. We’ll get to that in a bit.

Today’s satellite infrastructure supports communications, internet traffic, and GPS-based systems relied upon by millions around the world. This ever-growing reliance makes it a prime target for cyber criminals looking to cause social, economic, or even physical chaos.

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) recently discovered Fancy Bear, a hacking group with suspected links to the Russian government, stalking a US satellite communications provider. The discovery was made following reports of suspicious behavior within the identified networks.

CISA analyst MJ Emanuel, who discussed the incident at this year’s Cyberwarcon cybersecurity conference, has reason to believe the hacking group, also known as APT28, infiltrated and was present on the victim’s networks for several months prior to discovery.

The attack isn’t the first of its kind. Earlier this year, the National Security Agency (NSA) and analysts from the Agence nationale de la sécurité des systèmes d’information (ANSSI) investigated satellite-based internet disruptions coinciding with Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine. The security organizations suspect the disruptions were also the work of Russia-backed cybercriminals intending to weaken Ukraine’s communications during the invasion.

The increase in satellite communication-related cyberattacks highlights the need for enhanced and standardized security practices across the aerospace industry. Security standards for current and incoming aerospace technology providers are currently being developed by organizations such as the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and International Organization for Standardization (ISO). Standardized practices across the industry will play an important role in bolstering the security posture of all aerospace technology providers and help secure what has become yet another critical global resource.

Coked-out bears like the one used in our comparison above may not be a daily threat, but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen.

In 1985, narcotics officer-turned-drug smuggler Andrew Thornton dropped 40 containers of cocaine over a Georgia forest before jumping out of the plane himself. Thornton’s parachute didn’t open, resulting in his death later that day. You’d think the story ends there, but that’s just where it starts.

Enter Pablo Escobear, a 79 kilogram (175 pound) black bear who found and ate the load of airdropped booger sugar. He was found to have eaten more than 34 kilos (75 pounds) of the powdery drug, almost half of his total body weight. To no one’s surprise, Pablo succumbed to the drug and died of an overdose. He’s since been immortalized through the magic of taxidermy and currently resides at the Kentucky Fun Mall in Lexington, KY. He’s also the inspiration for Elizabeth Banks’ upcoming cinematic masterpiece, aptly named “Cocaine Bear.”

Image credit: Crowdstrike, Wikiimages,

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