There is a new Concern about cyberattacks on Space that have been raised as space systems become more computationally complex and interconnected. Cyber vulnerabilities provide significant dangers to essential infrastructure on the ground as well as to space-based assets.
Many dangers and difficulties that can jeopardise the security and integrity of space systems and assets are referred to as space threats. These risks have the potential to have a considerable impact on communication, navigation, weather forecasting, national security, and global economic development.
Cyberattacks on satellite systems have become a growing concern. As an example, SpaceX recently became aware of the jamming of their Starlink terminals, which they shipped to Ukraine in March 2022, and significantly strengthened cybersecurity.
The following are some major points about space threats:
- Cyberattacks: Cybersecurity risks in space are a big concern. Cyberattacks on satellites and other space-based assets include malware installation, ransomware attacks, and unauthorised access to critical data. Cyberattacks have the potential to disrupt key services and jeopardise the functionality of space systems.
- Inadequate space-centric cybersecurity standards and governance: The development of space-centric cybersecurity standards and governance has been gradual, trailing the expansion of the cyber threat. Due to this gap in standards, space systems are more exposed to cyberattacks and other dangers.
- Interconnection and complexity: The potential of hacking and other threats grows as space systems become increasingly interconnected and computationally complex. The interaction of various elements, such as space, ground, link, and user, produces potential vulnerabilities and compromises.
Cybersecurity Threats in Space
New security concerns are growing as the space sector begins to play a significant role in peoples’, organisations’, and governments’ daily lives. Today’s space systems must be designed to survive cyberattacks, which have the potential to impair crucial services and are getting increasingly difficult to defend against by combining talent and resources.
Cybersecurity plays an essential role in space for the following reasons:
- Space system vulnerability: Satellites and other space assets are purpose-built computers that are vulnerable to many of the same cybersecurity vulnerabilities as terrestrial computers
- Malware installation, ransomware assaults, and other cyber threats can compromise them.
- Astronauts’ potential hazards: Cyber threats to crewed spacecraft may concentrate on close approaches, such as introducing malware or ransomware into a craft’s internal computer. These threats can endanger astronauts’ lives.
- Cyberattacks on these systems have the potential to interrupt, deny, degrade, deceive, or destroy vital capabilities.
- Prioritising cybersecurity during the development process of satellites and space assets is critical to ensuring a security-first strategy.
Why are space systems vulnerable?
Many space systems are old because they were built before cybersecurity was a significant national focus. They feature flaws like hardcoded credentials, which are utilised by ships, planes, and the military, allowing access by sophisticated actors very straightforwardly.
Space system and infrastructure vulnerabilities vary across a wide spectrum of potential attack surfaces. According to a recent article by the Aerospace Corporation, there are four major segments of space infrastructure that must be hardened against cyberattacks. Spacecraft may be subject to command intrusions (providing incorrect instructions to disable or modify basic controls), payload control, and denial of service (sending excessive traffic to overload systems). Malware could be used to infect ground systems (such as satellite control centres) and users, and links between the two and spacecraft could be spoofed (disguising communication from an untrusted source as a trusted one) or suffer from replay (malicious actors interrupting or delaying communication).
In conclusion, space threats, particularly cybersecurity threats, pose significant challenges to the security and integrity of space systems and assets. Cyberattacks on satellites and other space-based assets include malware installation, ransomware attacks, and unauthorised access to critical data. These threats have the potential to disrupt key services like communication, navigation, and weather forecasting. Satellite risks are highlighted because of their susceptibility as purpose-built computers.
Author: Himanshi Singh, Policy & Advocacy Team,CyberPeace