Why space is cybersecurity’s final frontier

Cyber-experts have warned that the world is unprepared for cyberattacks on space infrastructure or natural disasters that could damage important and even crucial systems used for everyday communications on Earth. In the ever-changing world of space, technology is one thing that never changes. As a result, space cybersecurity has become a more significant concern than before — and organizations like NASA are doing their part to keep things safe. Activities surrounding HTS (high-technology satellites) and vessels orbiting celestial bodies are increasing exponentially every day. It is more important than ever before to establish robust networks among global efforts so information can flow freely between teams working independently around different regions.

In 2016, NASA signed a contract with Boeing to develop a cybersecurity system for the International Space Station. Boeing created the security system with collaboration from Lockheed Martin and Raytheon. The project’s estimated cost is $17 million over three years of research and development.

Another example of an organization investing in cybersecurity is the European Space Agency (ESA). ESA has been working on “developing a secure operating environment for spacecrafts.”

space cybersecurity

Challenges of space cybersecurity

It’s not just about space exploration — the threats are similar on earthbound systems too. The key difference? Satellite (or other equipment), control stations in-between, and transmissions that could affect them both ways: from orbit down to Earth and vice versa. A secondary hazard for satellites comes from objects such as meteors and asteroids, which may damage equipment onboard due to their size. Unfortunately, these dangers have only been minimally studied thus far.

Space exploration is getting more attractive

Our reliance on satellites is both an asset and a vulnerability. On the one hand, we can take advantage of their unique capabilities when it comes time for a weather emergency or aircraft accident investigation. Still, at any point, enemies can use these same instruments against us for mass destruction.

Collisions between satellites are a growing concern as the number of these devices in space has increased. Hackers could also potentially damage them with hacks, which is an even greater fear for those who depend on their services — especially companies like SpaceX, which focuses on safety and security measures.

The danger of cyberattacks is not a reality for many satellites in service. The reason? Some systems were manufactured before cybersecurity became an important issue. These systems are all vulnerable with hardcoded credentials that the company itself can’t change.

A recent survey found that 80% of organizations have been hacked. Hackers target high-value targets like satellites for their data because they can be hard to hack. This makes them valuable in terms of both money and information sought after by cybercriminals alike.

Space cybersecurity measures

space cybersecurity

The U.S. Space Force has announced that they will be publishing a timeline for implementing new cybersecurity standards soon. These rules are necessary to bid on Air Force and other military contracts as satellite communication providers. These guidelines can help cut costs while ensuring protection against potential cyberattacks from hackers worldwide who wish nothing but mayhem upon our nation’s defense systems — both past and present.

As part of the Space Force’s focus on cybersecurity, they have brought in 2,400 people to work toward protecting space-based assets from hackers. They created the “Cyber Guardian” group for this mission with $1 million going into their budget and mentorships offered by Facebook and Google. Both tech giants have been working closely alongside military personnel and NASA employees.

Experts agree that international cooperation is crucial to preventing cyberattacks in space, and many recommend a specific set of actions. For example, the Council on Foreign Relations has published a report recommending that the U.S., NATO, and China collaborate through space cybersecurity initiatives.

Space organization’s efforts

NASA signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the European Space Agency to protect these organizations’ workforces or assets (such as satellites) from hackers. However, attackers can try taking them down remotely by using viruses they’ve planted aboard these platforms before their deployment.

A treaty that has had a significant impact on space exploration and security is The Outer Space Treaty of 1967. The purpose of this international agreement was to prevent damage in orbit. The rule is not to send any kinetic weapons into space. Still, it also includes some limitations like not accounting for cyberwarfare facilitators (which makes sense given the period).

It provides precedent as other nations can look back on its success when trying new aircraft carriers or nuclear missiles.

Space is, indeed, the final frontier for cybersecurity.

Featured image: Shutterstock

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