Space Force coming to grips with cybersecurity threats


A key challenge for the Space Force is how to assess cybersecurity risks, said Lt. Gen. Stephen Whiting

WASHINGTON — Satellite operators face the reality that ground systems and network equipment used to operate space systems provide many entry points for cyber attackers. Cyber ​​and malware attacks can be carried out at relatively low cost, making these types of weapons far more accessible than missiles or lasers.

It’s an issue of growing concern for the U.S. space force, said Lt. Gen. Stephen Whiting, commander of the Space Operations Command.

A key challenge for the Space Force is how to assess cybersecurity risks, Whiting said July 7 on a space policy talk show hosted by the Aerospace Corp.

“It’s been on my mind recently: cybersecurity and how we measure risk in the cyber domain,” said Whiting, who described the cyber domain as “the soft underside of our global space networks.”

“It’s a real problem and it’s an issue that we’ve been looking for and we’ve gotten some help from the political community,” he said.

The military is more comfortable dealing with threats to physical security, while cyber security is another problem that requires a non-traditional approach, he noted.

“At Peterson Air Force Base [Colorado] we have a fence around our installation, we have members of the armed security forces who are well trained in how to defend this installation,” Whiting said. “We have security cameras, we have security alarms, all of that together. We’re pretty comfortable with understanding what our security posture is against the threat outside the gate, based on intelligence and law enforcement.”

Now compare that to cybersecurity, he said, “where we know there are countries that are trying to probe us in cyber, what we call advanced, persistent threat actors. We don’t have a similar sense of risk measurement in cyber.”

The Space Force now wants to add more squadrons of cyber experts to support military units that operate communications, surveillance and navigation satellites. “We’ve been investing in cyber defense,” Whiting said. “We have a cyber workforce that is thinking about defensive cyber.” The challenge is “how do you measure that cyber risk in a way that you can make a decision about whether I’m comfortable with my risk posture?”

Russian tactics in Ukraine, where hackers tried to penetrate Ukraine’s communications satellite infrastructure ahead of the February invasion, are seen as a playbook for how cyber weapons could be used in other conflicts.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk reported disruption of Starlink communications near Ukrainian conflict areas. Hackers infiltrated Viasat’s KA-SAT satellite internet network, disabling modems that provided internet connections to thousands of customers in Ukraine and nearby countries.

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