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New Study from Ethic + Emerging Sciences Group unveils space-cyber risks – IEEE Comments

July 2024 by IEEE

The Ethics + Emerging Sciences Group recently issued a report funded by the US National Science Foundation, which examined the vital role space communication systems play in the modern world and the threat posed by cyber attackers. The report offers a scenario-prompt generator – called the ICARUS matrix which can create more than 4 million unique scenarios prompts – providing examples of the different kinds of attacks on our critical national infrastructure (CNI) and potential consequences, to help governments and organisations better understand the problem and anticipate future threats in this new cybersecurity frontier.

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National space assets and operations are fundamental to global security and economic well-being. As such, the potential impact of a cyberattack becomes more severe. The risk to commercial space operations must be better understood and managed alongside other threats to ensure safe and successful operations. Key findings include:

• Failure of ‘imagination’ is a huge risk in security planning
• Unexpected scenarios could happen tomorrow
• This will be the new space race and CNI is ill-prepared

Paul Kostek, IEEE senior member and principal systems engineer at Air Direct Solutions LLC, expresses some concern over the expanding attack surface in space:

“As the number of satellite constellations increases so does the number of possible entry points. These include the ground stations transferring the data to the telemetry stream, as well as the reliance on IoT devices which provide even more access opportunities. Then there’s the fact that most ground stations may not be controlled by the owners or providers of the constellation and as a result may not provide adequate security."

Kevin Curran, IEEE senior member and professor of cybersecurity at Ulster University, agrees, explaining the attractiveness of space communications as a target for bad actors:

“The importance of space to the largest nation states cannot be overstated – the attack surface is both huge and attractive. After all, space is an essential element of critical infrastructure. Essential systems such as communications, air transport, maritime trade, financial services, weather monitoring and defence all rely heavily on space infrastructure – including satellites, ground stations and data links at the national, regional and international level. Attacks against these components could disrupt an entire nation.”

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