Military satellites are in critical threat of being attacked by malicious actors. As the threat of nation-states and hackers increases, security experts have become concerned with the attack on our infrastructure in space.
The U.S and its Allies depend on satellites for military, intelligence gathering, and operations. A paper released by the Chatham House, warns that this dependence can be exploited by threat actors if vulnerabilities are left unaddressed.
Satellites and space systems are vulnerable to attack and if NATO does not address the security gaps now, we may face the consequences. As the basic functions of those systems can be stopped or changed causing chaos in times when making a split-second decision is required. It is even more critical because attacks can occur quickly without warning. Making decisions and counteracting the attack can be complex and difficult.
Chatham House in their report highlighted that:
“policy influencers and policymakers are struggling to grasp the full impact of cyber vulnerabilities in the context of both space-based assets and strategic systems…..cyberattacks have the potential to wreak havoc on strategic weapons systems and undermine deterrence by creating uncertainty and confusion”
There are multiple vulnerabilities in the satellite systems. First, military personnel use commercial and third-party companies for various tasks. Further, multiple ‘back-door’ exist in encryption, patches are not issued, the supply chain is filled with weaknesses. Additionally, the systems are used for both military and civilian purposes. This means that’s military communications cross channels with earth observations, environmental monitoring, and oceanographic data. The civilian communications are not protected with the same way as the military side; they are left without high grade military hardening and protections.
Attackers can use various techniques to exploit the vulnerabilities present in the space systems. Methodologies can include spoofing to falsify location information. GPS Spoofing can be used to disrupt and manipulate digital communications to military forces. Potentially confusing military personnel or giving false location information. Further, attackers can interrupt automated missile defense systems, gain access to systems, and compromise them for malicious means. Software inside weapons systems like precision-guided munitions can also be exploited.
The U.S and its allies are at greater risk because Russia and China are focusing on electronic warfare building a future strategy to attack and combat cyberattacks. Additionally, both countries operate their own satellite systems. This means that both countries can launch attacks without disrupting their own systems. The US their own GPS and European countries uses the Galileo system. Whereas Russia uses their own GLONASS satellite system and China uses their own.
These risks are highly possible and have already occurred. The report noted that Russia was seen testing jamming in Syria and Ukraine to remotely land piloted aircraft. Further, they also
“ reported to have conducted denial-of-service attacks on radio and telephone equipment, and to have attempted to steal encrypted military data.”
Before, threats become even greater it is crucial for NATO to begin strategize and implementing cybersecurity policies and procedures for space systems. The report urged that
“If cyberthreats are not effectively addressed, vulnerabilities in the strategic infrastructure could result in severe consequences for international security”
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