Space: the final frontier for cybersecurity?

October 2016

Cyber experts have warned that the world is dangerously unprepared for a global disaster sparked by cyber attacks on space infrastructure.

A new report published by Chatham House, an independent policy institute based in London, has warned that authorities are not doing nearly enough to stop space assets being hacked and used maliciously. The report outlines that the consequences of such a hack could be disastrous – anything from damage to trade and financial services to terrorists taking over strategic weapons.

modern-navigation-satellite - Space infrastructureMuch of the world’s critical infrastructure – such as communications, air transport, maritime trade, financial and other business services, weather and environmental monitoring and defence systems – depends on the space infrastructure, including satellites, ground stations and data links at national, regional and international levels.

Possible cyberthreats against space-based systems include state-to-state and military actions; well-resourced organised criminal elements seeking financial gain; terrorist groups wishing to promote their causes, even up to the catastrophic level of producing satellite collisions; and individual hackers who want to fanfare their skills.

Cyberattacks on satellites can include jamming, spoofing and hacking attacks on communication networks; targeting control systems or mission packages; and attacks on the ground infrastructure such as satellite control centres.

For the space industry, like any business or organisation in the 21st century, success is built upon information superiority. The ability to get the right information into the hands of decision makers gives tactical, operational and strategic advantage.

Although the report highlights that much more work needs to be done, organisations have been working on improving their cyber security stances for some time. One of the starting points for any analysis is to assess which systems and users need access to which information, so that appropriate measures can be put into place to minimise the vulnerabilities to attackers.

Due to the sensitivity of the information, conventional approaches to this protection have often led to many information systems being separated from each other and from the people who need access to the assets they contain.

This makes sharing data across network or security boundaries difficult, or impossible, and results in an incomplete or delayed picture of a given situation. The consequence of this is that any decisions or actions based on such a disjointed picture may be wrong or too slow to be effective.

At Nexor, we have been helping some of the more forward-thinking space organisations to help join up their networks and information systems that they need timely, yet secure, access to; even if they operate at different trust levels.

This allows these organisations to provide a safe and secure service to all those industries that rely upon the satellite infrastructure.

screenshot-of-space-cyber-security-blogAt the launch of the Chatham House report, Patricia Lewis, Director of the international security department, commented that space agencies are looking seriously at advanced protections for space infrastructure.

The fact that countries such as China are prepared to try completely new approaches such as quantum entanglement, and the European Galileo space navigational network has introduced new security measures, shows the capacity and determination of the space industry to counter the cyber security challenges all our countries face.

More information on the cyber threat to the global space industry can be found in the Chatham House report: “Space, the Final Frontier for Cybersecurity?” 

Author Bio - Tony Roadknight

Tony RoadknightTony Roadknight is a Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) and is Lead Technologist at Nexor delivering cyber security solutions to governments, defence and critical national infrastructure organisations.

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