According to the Index of Objects Launched into Outer Space maintained by the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA), as of mid-2018 there were 792 communications satellites orbiting the earth and several hundreds of others used for navigation, technology development, space science, earth science, and earth observation.
Satellite systems are critically important to our global communications bandwidth, and they are also becoming a prime target for cybercriminals. Here’s a look at cybersecurity concerns for the satellite sector.
The importance of satellites
Mobile phone networks, GPS technologies, a myriad of IoT devices, and even electrical grids and other power suppliers regularly rely on satellites to keep their operations going. Any damage inflicted in the satellite sector can have a ripple effect, leading to heavy financial losses and/or comprised data in other areas.
Satellites are part of the extended cyber ecosystem for most organizations, but unfortunately, organizations rarely have direct control over satellite cybersecurity.
Satellites and cyber risk
Satellites pose unique cybersecurity challenges that add to their appeal as targets.
Because satellite operations are led by technologies that are housed on earth, those earth-bound entry points offer cyber attackers with an enormous number of potential inroads for hacking. The vast number of entry points also compounds the difficulty of tracing and shutting down a cyber attack.
One the most significant weaknesses that is common to all satellite systems is the use of long-range telemetry for communication with ground stations. The uplinks and downlinks are often transmitted through open telecom network security protocols that are easily accessed by cybercriminals.
IoT devices that utilize satellite communications pose additional potential points of entry for bad actors.
Satellite ground stations are particularly vulnerable - if a malicious actor is able to interrupt the satellite signal they may be able to gain access to any downstream systems connected to the satellite. In this way, an attacker could potentially trespass through an organization’s network starting from the infiltrated satellite ground station.
To protect the data they transmit, all military-grade satellite communications are subject to all CSfC requirements (particular those outlined in the mobile access capability package), including dual tunnel encryption.
It’s important to note that it’s not just large, military-grade satellites that are at risk for cybercrime - small commercial satellites are at risk as well. And, depending upon the type of data they are transmitting, a quantum-resistant solution may be important.
Unfortunately, many newer or smaller companies may perceive cybersecurity as being too costly to be a priority. In addition, cyber defense for the satellite sector has historically been comprised of very custom solutions based on each satellite system’s individual requirements.
Secure all entry points
Below are several cybersecurity recommendations for both private and public satellite systems:
- Make cybersecurity a top priority for your organization and allocate budget accordingly
- Establish and communicate the security requirements for your organization
- Implement robust encryption for every piece of data that is transferred to or from any satellite (usually achieved through a VPN solution)
- Use proper authentication methods
- Utilize secure tunneling
- Ensure all IoT devices endpoint communications kits are protected
The reality is that even if the above precautions are implemented, there is still a significant risk posed by the myriad of data entry points associated with any satellite system.
Archon’s GoSilent hardware VPN technology provides CNSA Top Secret level protection, seamless integration with private and public networks and sufficient flexibility to connect to and protect any configuration of satellite system or type of IP-enabled device.
GoSilent is also affordable and easy to deploy, making it an attractive solution for smaller satellite companies unlikely to have a cybersecurity department.
Communications satellites create a multitude of interconnections between organizations. To mitigate the risk of infiltration into this ecosystem, it is essential to protect all entry points.