Securing Space: Addressing the Urgency to Protect Space Assets Against the Increasing Threat of Cyber Attacks
Cybersecurity. The buzzword that is used over and over not only in the tech world but in our daily lives, reminding us to protect our software from threats of cybercrime. These warnings do not come unheeded. In fact, in 2021, businesses saw a 50% increase in cyberattacks per week compared to 2020, and it is estimated that around 30,0000 websites are hacked every single day.
The risk of data leaks, unauthorised surveillance, internet blackouts and other malicious attacks prompt cybersecurity to be an ever growing industry, with products and services from 2021 to 2025 estimated at $1.75 trillion cumulatively over the five year period.
What does cybersecurity mean for space?
Early versions of computer antivirus software was created even before the internet as we know it. In the 1970s, it was discovered through the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) – a connectivity network- that one computer program could move to a different network and therefore that security could be breached. And so, from this realisation was born the concept of antivirus, used to protect systems from such threats.
Four decades and the creation of the world wide web later, countless versions of cybersecurity software have been developed. Advancements in computing and cybersecurity have been growing alongside each other, and so security has become entrenched in this technology.
However, let’s take a look at the origins of space. When space exploration began (with the first satellite, Sputnik 1, being launched in 1957), it was for that very purpose; to explore space. Space engineers, agencies, astronauts, all had the common goal of designing spacecraft and systems with the hardware that would operate as effectively and efficiently as possible in an outer space environment.
The evolution of the space landscape means that the industry now not only operates upwards, but also down. Whilst hardware is still a key focus of the industry, software if equally as important.
Supported by the increasing number of satellite companies in the newspace sector, space assets are accumulating more data than ever before. One statistic from 2020 states that “Commercial imaging companies are collecting upwards of 100 terabytes (TB) or more per day, every day, 365 days a year”.
To put this into context, one TB of data is equal to 250,000 12mp photographs, 6.5 million document pages of Office, PDF or presentation files (or if you want to think of it in a physical form, around 1,300 physical filing cabinets of paper). Undoubtedly, that is a lot of information.
The industries utilising this data are also growing; be it defence, agriculture, connectivity, environmental services, mobility, and many many more. Despite the diversity in industries, the one commonality for all is that security is paramount.
Earlier this year, Russia was reported to have hacked US satellite communications provider, Viasat, on the first day it invaded Ukrainian. Other major reported cases include US computers controlling satellites being hacked and infected in 2018, Iranian hacking groups attempting to trick satellite companies into installing malware in 2019, and even satellite navigation systems being hacked to send fake navigation data to thousands of ships in order to direct them off course.
Now, more than ever, it is becoming critical for satellite operators to ensure that their infrastructure is secure to mitigate these risks, be it in a geopolitical setting, commercial setting, or otherwise.
What is being done, and what do we need to do?
Today, our reliance on space for services on Earth creates a greater urgency than ever before to ensure that a fully-fledged security infrastructure is in place, from the ground up.
“Space is a newly emerging commercial critical infrastructure sector that is no longer the domain of only national government authorities. Space is an inherently risky environment in which to operate, so cybersecurity risks involving commercial space – including those affecting commercial satellite vehicles – need to be understood and managed alongside other types of risks to ensure safe and successful operations.”
Both commercial and institutional organisations are already mobilising resources to do this. Agencies are increasing their efforts to implement better security, dedicated project groups, and companies such as Cysec have dedicated technologies to service the space industry.
As with the way computer security developed alongside the technology, the advent of space as a service is a critical moment to implement cybersecurity in to existing and emerging space infrastructure going forwards.
Interested in finding out more about space cyber security and what is needed for its development over the coming years? Make sure to register for Space Tech Expo Europe, where you can see speakers including experts such as Cysec’s VP Space, Mathieu Bailly, and more discuss this important topic. Registration for the free-to-attend event is now live here.