#scienceInAction: Air Force looking at ways to protect Satellite Networks from Cyber attacks - aksu360

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#scienceInAction: Air Force looking at ways to protect Satellite Networks from Cyber attacks

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A future war in space is less likely to be fought with missiles than with electronic signals and malware. Such a prospect has unnerved US Air Force leaders at a time when the military is growing increasingly dependent on space systems for essential missions. 

The military is confident that its own spacecraft are tightly encrypted and unlikely to be taken down by hackers. It worries, however, about the vulnerability of commercial satellites that host military payloads. The US Air Force is however, eyeing a possible fix: Adding encryption devices to payloads to protect them from tampering or hacking even if the satellite that hosts them comes under attack.

To test the concept, the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center has contracted Innoflight, a business that specializes in cybersecurity for space systems. The company in turn signed a contract with the commercial satellite firm SSL to develop a high-fidelity simulation environment for testing the security of hosted payloads on commercial satellites.

Al Tadros, vice president of space infrastructure and civil space at SSL, said this project presents a “major opportunity” for the government to increase the use of commercial space technology and also meet the military’s stringent cybersecurity requirements. Hosting payloads on commercial satellites gives the government cheaper and faster access to space.

“The government wants a level of security for payloads that are hosted on commercial satellites. It’s a reasonable thing. But it hasn’t been developed previously.”
The International Space Station
Military officials worry about hostile attacks and want systems safeguarded from tampering or intrusions by hackers trying to gain access to data or redirect data. A more common problem is inadvertent interference, Tadros said, as when someone turns on a transmitter and accidentally disrupts a satellite signal. Regardless, finding a way to protect hosted payloads would be a major breakthrough for the Air Force.

“Security is one element of resilience, and hosted payloads are part of the solution for increased resilience.”

The possibility that enemy hackers could disable or jam U.S. satellite networks is becoming increasingly real as countries like Russia have shown it can be done.

“Many space observers wrongly assume that the main threat to U.S. satellites is some sort of direct kinetic attack. In fact, the most likely aggression would involve jamming or cyber assault on satellite signals and links that impede the ability of terrestrial users to access orbital assets,” said defense industry consultant Loren Thompson, of the Lexington Institute. 

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