Protecting Space Systems from Cyber Attack

How vulnerable are satellites to cyber attack?

High-level threat vectors and levels of sophistication required to carry out specific threats.

What are some of the biggest cyber threats to space systems?

  • Subversion of ground system capabilities by utilizing the ground system to maliciously interact with a satellite
  • Communications hacking on TT&C systems via command link injection, replay attacks, or electronic attacks like jamming and spoofing
  • Malicious features embedded during hardware development, including hardware-based trojansDesign vulnerability exploitation, where designed-in features of the system are used for malicious purposes, i.e., direct memory writes to a satellite
  • Software-defined radio compromise
  • Software weaknesses and vulnerabilities exploitation
  • Insider threats

What are some of the tactics used to attack space systems?

Different segments of space systems are prone to different types of attack. Illustration courtesy National Air, Space, and Intelligence Center (NASIC)
  • Attitude Determination and Control (AD&C)
  • Command and Data Handling (C&DH)
  • Electrical Power and Distribution Subsystem (EPDS)
  • Propulsion Subsystem (PS)
  • Structures and Mechanisms Subsystem (SMS)
  • Telemetry, Tracking, and Command (TT&C)
  • Thermal Control Subsystem (TCS)
Parts of a generic satellite. Illustration courtesy Space Foundation

Are cyber security measures for space systems markedly different than protections for terrestrial networks?

  • Physical security of TT&C environment
  • TT&C protection using encryption or authentication
  • Jamming and spoofing protections
  • Supply Chain Risk Management
  • Insider Threat
  • Follow basic cyber hygiene as well as adherence to National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) guidance
  • Protect the ground system from cyber attack
  • Protect the ground-to-space command link and any cross-links
  • Establish robust strategy for cryptography key management. If key management is poor or keys are stolen, encryption provides little value on protection
  • Protect the supply chain and protect the development environment from compromise. Given the complex nature of space vehicle supply chains and the expanding commercialization of space, protecting the supply chain is becoming of upmost importance
  • Ensure secure software development procedures are in place to prevent design flaws, insecure logic, and coding defects that could affect the flight software
  • Design for cyber resiliency on-board the satellite to ensure proper detection, recovery, and response leveraging automation, machine learning and other forms of artificial intelligence

What does it mean for a spacecraft to be “cyber-resilient?”

Principles for designing cyber resilient spacecraft.

What are some of the challenges in designing space systems for the future?



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store