view counter

Space cybersecurity Space: Cybersecurity’s final frontier

Published 22 September 2016

The world is dangerously unprepared for a global disaster sparked by cyberattacks on space infrastructure. Much of the world’s infrastructure – including the economies and militaries of the world’s developed countries – is dependent on space machinery, and any disruption of that machinery would have a cascading consequences – some merely debilitating, other catastrophic. Governments around the world have invested heavily in protecting infrastructure on Earth – yet not nearly enough has been done to thwart threats from space to that infrastructure.

Rendering of a vulnerable com satellite // Source: commons.wikimedia.org

The world is dangerously unprepared for a global disaster sparked by cyberattacks on space infrastructure, a sobering Chatham House report says.

Much of the world’s infrastructure – including the economies and militaries of the world’s developed countries – is dependent on space machinery, and any disruption of that machinery would have a cascading consequences – some merely debilitating, other catastrophic. Governments around the world have invested heavily in protecting infrastructure on Earth – yet not nearly enough has been done to thwart threats from space to that infrastructure.

The report’s authors, David Livingstone and Patricia Lewis, argue that the authorities are not doing enough to stop space assets being hacked and used maliciously.

The authors say government should adopt a “radical review” of cyber security in space. Currently there is no global organization responsible for monitoring and advancing the security of space assets. Lewis, director of the international security department at Chatham House, said that the situation may advance so quickly that governments soon will not be able to do anything about it.

The reason is that space is today’s Wild West: Space is quickly becoming a realm which is not dominated just by a few privileged countries. Rather, it is becoming a domain “ruled by market forces,” and this is likely to intensify in future. Individual governments are limited in their ability to address specific cyberthreats. The only way to deal effectively with such threats is for countries to collaborate – and for the relevant industries to do their share.

The authors said that they hoped the required changes would be made by the space industry itself.

“The space industry is renowned as a forward-thinking, market-leading community and it needs to address cyber security urgently,” Livingstone told the Independent. “What we need is an international community of the willing that would be tasked with developing industry-led standards in order to develop pace and agility in response to the growing cyber threat in space.”

Lewis said that some of that work was already being done, with space agencies looking seriously at advanced protections for space infrastructure.

“The fact that countries such as China are prepared to try completely new approaches such as quantum entanglement, and the European Galileo space navigational network has introduced new security measures, shows the capacity and determination of the space industry to counter the cyber security challenges all of our countries face,” she said.