Space opportunities are actively growing and developing. Satellite data has become more accessible than ever, and now it can be used to solve many problems both for business and for solving global issues for humanity. The new space sector, which includes space tourism, a mission to Mars, asteroid mining, and more, is driving development and transformation in many related industries. However, the commercialization of space requires a robust cybersecurity system, as the commercial space industry is a target for cyber espionage and different crimes.
For example, small satellites and other spacecraft have made space even more accessible to commercial companies and those who use satellite data. Small satellites are linked by networks and can provide Internet access, remote sensing, data storage, and transmission. Various innovations in electronics, image processing, big data, sensors, and artificial intelligence are actively applied in this industry. Farmers, governments, commercial enterprises, and telecom companies use satellite technologies.
Threats to Space Assets
The vulnerability of space infrastructure and cyberspace has increased due to new dynamics in space. The risk of disruption in this industry is associated with many hackers who act individually and with the support of states. At the same time, it is pretty hard to trace and bring the perpetrators of the attacks to justice. Threats at the intersection of space and cybersecurity are divided into the following categories:
- kinetic physical
- non-kinetic physical
- Earth-based (ground)
This kind of attack can become the reason for permanent damage if it is successful. However, finding the source of such a threat is relatively easy. The results of these attacks are visible; it’s hard not to notice orbital debris or damage to ground stations. It ensures the deterrence of such crimes.
A non-kinetic physical attack means that the satellite is damaged without direct contact. Such attacks are made through electromagnetic pulses, powerful microwaves, or lasers. With such an attack, it is difficult for an attacker to determine its success.
It is not aimed at the physical components of the satellite but at the means through which it receives and transmits data. When carrying out such an attack, the attacker must be in the satellite control station area on the ground.
The goal of a cyberattack is to damage both the data and the systems that use that data. Thus, attackers can determine who communicates with whom, listen to traffic and inject corrupted data or third-party malicious elements into systems. A cyberattack is impossible without deep knowledge of the environment but minimal resources. If a space system is attacked, data may be lost, and the system’s operation or the entire satellite may be disrupted.
Like other space assets, satellites are vulnerable to cyberattacks as their infrastructure becomes increasingly digitized. Cyber vulnerabilities pose severe risks to space assets and terrestrial infrastructure. For this reason, it is hazardous to ignore these threats. Otherwise, global economic development will be disrupted, leading to international security violations. These threats are not hypothetical as many countries and private actors use anti-space capabilities in new applications. It is a threat to the existence of critical space assets.
Damage to or disruption of the supply chain of systems on the ground and malicious acts against infrastructure are classified as ground-based threats. Software and hardware are supplied from various foreign and domestic sources. The supply chain should integrate only genuine and compliant hardware and software. The supply chain has to be secure as it contains sensitive material that needs to be protected.
Cyberattacks threaten various space objects, including satellites and the infrastructure for their operation. Successful attacks can lead to loss of data and a complete disruption of the functionality of the satellite. It may become unusable after such an attack. At the national and international levels, as well as at the level of the space industry itself, many efforts need to be made to strengthen policies and raise awareness about the cybersecurity of the space sector.
The new era of space activities requires protecting outer space and maintaining security beyond our planet. These responsibilities lie with governments and societies, as their awareness and awareness of potential threats and types play an important role in achieving this goal.