A White House policy directive released on Friday directs satellite makers and operators to harden their spacecraft against hackers and hijackers, and coordinate their activities to make sure everyone is working in accordance with the same objectives and procedures.
Defenseone.com reports that the new ‘Space Policy-Directive 5’ urges manufacturers to design their hardware and software so that operators can monitor and adapt to “activities that could manipulate, deny, degrade, disrupt, destroy, surveil, or eavesdrop on space system operations.”
They should also have plans and tools in place to recapture control of satellites that get jammed, hacked, or hijacked.
The directive urges satellite makers and operators to also better manage the security of ground stations and address “supply chain risks that affect cybersecurity of space systems.” It calls on satellite makers to better collaborate and “share threat, warning, and incident information within the space industry.”
The national security community has become increasingly focused on threats to U.S. satellites over the last several years, as Chinese space activity has grown, Russia has taken some provocative manoeuvres in space, such as the recent test of a space-based projectile, and India tested an anti-satellite rocket.
A 2019 Defense Intelligence Agency report said that China and Russia are “developing jamming and cyberspace capabilities, directed energy weapons, on-orbit capabilities, and ground-based anti-satellite missiles that can achieve a range of reversible to nonreversible effects.”
But the threat of malicious cyber activity against space communications, whether targeted at satellites or the ground software and hardware, is among the most severe potential threats. In March, the Center for Strategic International Studies, or CSIS, documented growing cyber and physical threats to US and allied satellites. “Cyberattacks can be used to monitor data traffic patterns (i.e., which users are communicating), to monitor the data itself, or to insert false or corrupted data in the system,” the CSIS report said.
The White House announcement is a step forward, said one of the report’s authors, Todd Harrison, director of defense budget analysis and senior fellow in the International Security Program at CSIS. “While many commercial firms already do the things outlined” in the directive, Harrison said, “it is good governance to put these things down in policy and it sets the right example for other nations to follow. Part of being a leader in space is leading by example when it comes to best practices in commercial space operations. It is also important for national security because the military relies on many commercial space systems to augment its own capabilities in areas like communications and imagery.”
Brian Weeden, technical advisor for the Secure World Foundation, said that the memo was expected and was the result of a process that had been going on for some time. “Cybersecurity has been a low-key but growing issue in the space world… Satellite operators (both governments and companies) are very reluctant to talk openly about any attacks they’ve experienced, but satellites are essentially computers in space connected to more computers on the ground and as such are vulnerable to many of the same cyber attacks we see in other sectors. “
The directive follows other initiatives aimed at closing the gap that has opened over the last decade between Russia’s most advanced intercontinental ballistic missile technology and hypersonic weapons systems and China’s apparently advanced anti-satellite capabilities.
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