Is Cybersecurity Strong Enough…in Space?

August 1, 2023

Introduction

Have you ever wondered whether our space satellites are safe?

No…not from alien attacks!

Safe from cybercriminal threats.

At the end of the day, satellites are just computers orbiting the Earth, sending and receiving signals from the surface. We rely on them for various purposes, such as communication, navigation, weather monitoring, Earth observation and scientific research.

Out there with the stars, human inventions still need cybersecurity! Just like computers and networks on Earth, satellites are vulnerable to cyber-attacks. These attacks can come from hackers or malicious actors who try to disrupt, steal information or take control of the satellites for harmful purposes.

What types of cyberattacks should we be worried about…in space?!

Why Does It Matter

Whether or not you’re cognizant of it, satellites play a significant role in our daily lives. For example, disruptions to communication satellites could lead to a loss of internet connectivity or disrupt phone calls. Attacks on navigation satellites could affect GPS services, causing problems in transportation and navigation. Damaging weather or Earth observation satellites could impact our ability to predict natural disasters and monitor the environment, too!

Unfortunately, experts have recently discovered vulnerabilities in certain satellite software that would allow bad actors unprecedented and treacherous access to our technology in space. They could hack that intelligence, disrupt operations or the connection with Earth, and even send them crashing into other satellites—which leads to other questions and concerns over space debris and long-term consequences!

In just three satellites, researchers found 13 different vulnerabilities. Many systems had not employed encryption techniques that would be fundamental in technology created today. Of course, these satellites weren’t made today!

Conclusion

While they operate in space, they are still managed and controlled through ground stations on Earth, making them susceptible to the same threats that you’re warned about in your Security Awareness Training at work.

Some common cybersecurity risks that satellites face include:

  • Unauthorized access to the ground stations or satellite control, which would enable a threat actor to disrupt satellite operations.
  • Communication signals between satellites and ground stations can be intercepted, potentially exposing sensitive information (especially when you think about who usually controls satellites—those are some important and well-funded organizations!).
  • Like any computer system, satellites can be infected with malware or viruses.
  • Hackers may attempt to overwhelm satellite systems with excessive traffic, causing temporary or permanent disruptions in what’s known as a distributed denial-of-service (DDOS) attack.
  • Attackers can send false signals or information to satellites, leading to incorrect data processing or navigation errors, in a common threat known as spoofing.
  • Physical Attacks: While less common, physical attacks on satellites or their infrastructure in space can also occur, leading to a loss of functionality.
  • Supply Chain Attacks that target satellite components or software during manufacturing.

We rely on satellites more than we think. Wouldn’t you feel safer knowing that experts are doing everything they can to improve their security?

Thankfully, experts in the field are constantly looking for new ways to improve cybersecurity on the national level and in the private sector.

You can do your part in keeping our most important data secure by minding your Security Awareness Training, staying up-to-date on what cybersecurity threats are most likely to affect your job, and following along with latest recommendations given by security experts. Reading this blog was a great place to start!

References

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