Connect the dots | Crowded orbits pose new security threats



Cyber ​​security threats are a growing concern for everyday life on Earth. As thousands of satellites are launched into orbit, are there new risks to consider in the skies above?

The vast majority of small bulky satellites in low Earth orbit are ill-prepared for increasingly sophisticated security threats, according to Rob Spicer, CEO of launch integration and mission management specialist TriSept.

TriSept embarked on software development a few years ago to address this issue, creating an operating system that it plans to deploy in December to protect small and large satellites from known and emerging vulnerabilities. Spicer said hackers could theoretically take control of a spaceship’s propulsion system and cause chaos in a crowded LEO environment.

A single satellite collision could be disastrous for the space industry and the daily life it supports on Earth, creating debris that inflates the risk of another collision with an exponential effect that could lock vital orbits for decades. decades.

“Satellites are just as susceptible to ransomware and cyber attacks as Colonial Pipeline was earlier this year – when nearly half of the fuel supply was cut off in the southeastern United States,” warned Spicer.

Current satellite security solutions are prohibitively expensive for small satellite business models, Spicer said.

Its TriSept Secure Embedded Linux (TSEL) software, currently undergoing advanced lab testing and functional testing, aims to provide a low-cost solution for wider market adoption.

Spicer said TSEL is coming to market as improving safety in orbit becomes increasingly critical for the space industry and governments around the world.

Last year, a Pentagon competition that challenged hackers to find security bugs in a military satellite and a ground-based system drew more than 900 entrants.

It’s time to focus on safety

“When you consider how much life on Earth revolves around satellites in space, it’s more critical than ever to effectively secure these assets in orbit,” Spicer said.

On the other hand, satellites are poised to play a bigger role in strengthening cybersecurity by bolstering next-generation solutions such as quantum encryption and blockchain technology, a decentralized system for recording and distributing digital information.

Today’s blockchain is perhaps best known for activating cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, which relies on a distributed ledger of transactions to make it difficult to hack or modify. Decentralized registries could also facilitate cybersecurity, supply chain management and other tasks.

Operator Smallsat Spire Global said on September 28 that it would demonstrate the technology in orbit for SpaceChain, a company focused on space applications of blockchain technology.

SpaceChain’s software will be uploaded to a Spire satellite as part of a partnership that aims to “maximize data security and increase the resilience of IT operations.”

Spire said it does not share information on practices for protecting its own satellites from hackers for security reasons. “Spire has created a resilient and fully integrated satellite, ground and cloud-based operations platform to enable secure and efficient data collection from space,” said a Spire official.

The operator of Smallsat Planet said it takes a “layered defense” approach to ensure that only it can contact and control its constellation. “These measures include end-to-end encryption for all spacecraft communications, management of hardware encryption keys, mandatory access control, network partitioning and isolation, as well as multi-factor hardware authentication.” , said a Planet official.

“In addition to these and related controls, we view our approach to spacecraft hardware and software as a benefit to the safety of our overall system. Our exclusive technology in the ground-to-space communication chain is differentiated and specially designed with security in mind, increasing the defense of the system. “

Planet is a member of the Space ISAC intelligence gathering alliance to share intelligence on specific threats and track public developments and technical trends in adjacent industries, including the rise of software supply chain attacks.

“This landscape of information informs our security practices, which we implement with our existing spacecraft and consider in refresh launches and future designs,” the official added.

Northern Sky Research analyst Hussain Bokhari said “security is currently a critical part of the ground segment and satellites,” highlighting developing satellites that harness quantum computing to protect communications networks.

“In the current state of the market, the players aim to prove the technology via the traditional means of building an ecosystem with key players and user segments. Overall, it seems that quantum in combination with other segments aims to improve the level of security through software-defined approach and making breaches more difficult along the way, ”said Bokhari.

This article originally appeared in the October 2021 issue of SpaceNews magazine.


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