The space economy is a great opportunity for cybercriminals

The space economy is a great opportunity for cybercriminals

From tourism in orbit to telecommunications, the growing space economy has to deal with unwanted attention

An antenna to receive communications from space (Getty Images) What is space for? And why is the space economy attracting increasingly large numbers, even in Italy? These are legitimate questions, which are even more important to answer in the face of a global health crisis, during which space activities have not stopped, but have absorbed resources. Money that many have objected would have been better used to solve the many problems here on Earth. In short, why “waste money to go to Mars? ”

The all too synthetic, but correct, answer would be: to keep the Earth alive. Or at least us. To go into detail, we could instead add that more than sixty years after Sputnik, the first artificial object to have orbited our planet, the centrality of the sector has increased: space has apparently turned out to be a driver for areas. distant if not untied. It is through the development of space technology that innovative services are offered to agriculture (precision farming), the monitoring of infrastructures, the observation of climate change and its effects. It is from Earth's orbit that rescue operations after environmental disasters are supported, or worst-case scenarios are prevented.

Today thousands of orbiting eyes carry telecommunications, control migrations and national borders, contribute to the safeguarding of cultural heritage and to the management of air and sea traffic. If we did not have them, not only the future we are building would not stand, but also the present would literally stagger: as reported by the BBC, in 2018 a conference simulated the impacts of a solar storm capable of devastating our orbiting systems. Result? The world blocked in 14 hours. Other than a pandemic.

Today, however, much more probable threats of extraterrestrial disasters endanger space, and with it our space-based life: cyber attacks. This is confirmed by a new report prepared by Kaspersky, the largest private provider of endpoint protection and cybersecurity solutions, in collaboration with the Zayed University of Dubai, entitled Cyberthreat profile of space infrastructure. The document examines in detail the cybersecurity of space travel and the threat that a compromised infrastructure could pose to human exploration of the cosmos and to our daily lives.

The cover of the latest report on space cyber security written by Kaspersky and Zayed University (Image: Kaspersky)

Protecting space travel

The point is reiterated by Monther Aldwairi, president of the computer and applied technology department at Zayed. "Space travel will become the norm very soon, with more countries launching their missions," he commented. Activities beyond the atmosphere are no longer only of interest to governments, but are becoming increasingly popular among private companies that aim to bring space to everyone ". This is why space threats today are not James Bond fantasies, but an established fact. In recent years, as also publicly stated Florence Parly, the French Minister of the Armed Forces after the anomalous approach to the Franco-Italian satellite Athena-Fidus by the Russian Launch-Olymp, the attempts - successful or not - to violate space technologies have increased.

Florence Parly with President Emmanuel Macron last March visiting Cnes, the French space agency (photo: Eliot Blondet_Pool_Sipa_Ipa)) Today the space infrastructure has more access points: corporate networks or user segment, communication stations, satellites in orbit and any system that connects to the network to take advantage of its services. As early as the end of 2022, entry points could increase to include LTE / 4G towers on the lunar surface. In other words, together with the benefits of a new economy in the sector, the democratization of space has multiplied the risks.

“Today the main threats concern the control centers or the stations that monitor the satellites - explains Maher Yamout , senior security researcher at Kaspersky -. This is because they are more accessible than other infrastructures such as, for example, the satellites themselves, and more accessible, in the sense that you can physically approach each other to place hacking hardware. It also happened in the past to NASA ".

" As regards the most probable and widespread threats, today there is the so-called jamming "adds Marco Brancati, chief technology innovation officer of the Italian Telespazio (at 67% di Leonardo and 33% of Thales), a world-class excellence in telecommunications and satellite services for sixty years. “Jamming - explains Brancati - means compromising the quality of the service to the point of canceling it. In this context, intentional interference is quite common, especially as regards telecommunications via satellite for television broadcasts. More dangerous are the phenomena of spoofing, those violations that return incorrect information, particularly in radar transmissions. It is a problem that concerns satellite navigation systems and can compromise their services ".

Why attack in space

An emphasis, that of Brancati, which leads us to ask ourselves what are the aims of cyber aggression from and space. “It depends on the type of attackers - replies Yamout -. The pro-government ones, or the so-called 'Advanced persistent threats', have as their main target sensitive data and information: being able to spy on other nations means gaining competitive advantages in a crucial sector also at an industrial level. Being aware of what others are doing beyond the atmosphere is important, as it concerns collective security.

Right now, thanks to a marketing process still in its infancy, state attackers are targeting it. space. However, it is certain that we will soon see cybercrime growing in this sector, with the main purpose of accumulating money ”.

It is the flip side of the new space economy, whose profits in the downstream segment, consisting of innovative applications and value-added services derived from orbiting infrastructures, will bring the space sector to be worth between 1,000 and 2,700 billions of dollars by 2040 (the estimates are respectively by Morgan Stanley and the investment bank Merril Lynch).

It is no coincidence that the "attackers", in threat actor jargon, are of various types as mentioned from Yamout and confirmed by Aldo Sebastiani, the head of Leonardo's center of excellence for cybersecurity: “It is inevitable that crime goes digital: there are the greatest returns on investment. This means that many of the previously 'state' threats, with geopolitical purposes and multimillion-dollar funding behind them, now generate mercenary spin-offs, available to the highest bidder. They are structures that to increase profits attack the supply chain, the network of companies, large and small, which allows the operation and logistics of the space supply chain ”.

Leonardo's Security Operation Center in Chieti (photo: Leonardo)

Defense strategies

It remains to understand how to respond to violations capable of impacting almost all sectors, from oil & gas to pharmaceuticals, from national security to entertainment. Just think of the satellite distribution of content, such as films or music, of infrastructures dedicated to gaming or banking transactions.

“Through our capabilities and our security centers in Chieti and Bristol we have structured a series of services in order to protect the country's critical infrastructures - says Sebastiani -. We also operate at the European institutional level, because cybersecurity is an area whose regulations and developments are having repercussions in the various member countries, starting with the GDPR, then with the NIS directive and soon with other developments. I am personally on the board of the European Cyber ​​Security Organization, the Ecso. We have discussions with the European Commission and work alongside national institutions in terms of both technological and divisional support for these elements ”.

The new control room for placing satellites into orbit at the Fucino space center (photo: Telespazio) "Telespazio - adds Brancati - has for example concentrated on its own assets, that is, on space centers and teleports, because they are the entry elements to the segment. It is clear that they are the first to be secured and, given that these are both new and existing infrastructures, the processes, depending on the two situations, are different: in the case of new generation infrastructures, the basic concept is secure-by-design, a protection guaranteed already in the design phase. In the second case, it is instead necessary to increase the resilience of the ground components, control centers and antenna stations. It is an 'asymptotic' process, which gradually makes technologies respectful of increasingly stringent requirements. In an ever-changing industry, the new crucial aspect is the careful choice of the supply chain. Because while in the past the systems were born complete, with a dedicated space segment and a ground segment, today more and more constellations are based on a ground segment service. For this reason, the selection of the partners and suppliers involved in the configuration of the ground system is fundamental ".

Also for this reason, next week, cyber security and aerospace will be at the center of the first edition of the International Conference on Cyber ​​Security for Aerospace (Iccsa): on 13 and 14 October in Chieti, in Leonardo's Global Security Operation Center, and in Aquila, in the Hemicycle Building, national and international experts will discuss topics related to the two worlds live on the web, always more connected.

"Just think of 5G - concludes Sebastiani - of mobile communication, domestic communication, daily access to the network, which will soon multiply thanks to the internet of things: the basis of all this is it is the data, that is, the gold of the third millennium. It is thanks to data that predictive maintenance is possible, if we can protect sensitive public and private information. Through the data, we protect ourselves. Well, the protection of this treasure chest, of our digital twin, in addition to technological systems, cannot ignore the so-called digital sovereignty, a crucial issue for all countries, Europe in the first place. A series of rules must be agreed as soon as possible so that those who provide services do so in full transparency. That is, so that the citizen has full knowledge of how the data concerning him is used ".

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