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Today’s weapon systems are interconnected and automated—and increasingly, they’re targets for cyber threats ranging from radio frequency manipulation to social-engineering email schemes. While the latest systems may be designed with cybersecurity in mind, legacy systems are more vulnerable to emerging digital risks. And for space-based systems, improving cybersecurity and resilience can be very challenging.
Space systems operate in an austere environment unlike any other. Once launched and on orbit, performing hardware maintenance and upgrades becomes a significant logistical hurdle. In addition, the challenge of securing space-based platforms is complicated by the tight connections these platforms have with other systems on the planet below. Satellites, for instance, must be connected to ground stations and other assets. There’s also a vast architecture of systems supporting space-based platforms, including a growing number of connected devices made to different standards by different vendors in different countries around the world. These factors broaden the attack surface, multiply the number of interfaces and intrusion points, and complicate supply chain security.
Protecting these networked systems requires an intentional approach to cybersecurity. That means making cybersecurity a priority for mission readiness rather than a secondary consideration. Designing and building a system with cybersecurity in mind is the best approach to ensuring continued resilience and vigilance against cyber vulnerabilities.
Booz Allen’s expertise spans all critical areas of cybersecurity for space operations—from the edge to the ground. We suggest a three-pronged approach to agencies working to address cybersecurity for their space platforms. Our approach focuses on mission relevance, resilience, and analytics.
Integrated cybersecurity approaches enable mission readiness and operations. By mapping a system’s architecture and how it interfaces with other systems, and understanding its role in a concept of operations, organizations can see more clearly how adversaries’ sophisticated tactics, techniques, and procedures could threaten vital systems.
What functions are critical to mission success? What are the impacts to the mission if its functions are compromised? What value does the data this system uses or produces have to an adversary? These are primary considerations for discovering mission-relevant vulnerabilities.
From here, space agencies can address vulnerabilities by prioritizing potential threats and developing plans to control ongoing and emerging risks. In this way, agencies can lay a foundation for resilient operations.
Even with the best cybersecurity plans in place, the most secure systems must still be treated as if they are compromised. And critical systems must be able to operate through disruptive attacks so they continue to perform their missions. This is especially true for space-based platforms.
After developing a comprehensive understanding of mission-relevant threats and vulnerabilities, space agencies can develop the necessary measures to introduce resilience into the system.
New systems should be designed with resilience in mind. Mapping cyber requirements through the use of model-based systems engineering, which focuses on functionality, can help identify gaps in the current architecture. Understanding that space-based platforms often operate semi-autonomously, system engineers can develop mechanisms whereby the system can identify vulnerabilities or an attack independently – and then autonomously take steps to mitigate those risks.
When modernizing legacy platforms, resilience can come in many forms—from shutting down compromised functions to enacting obfuscation techniques.
The space community is already using analytics to turn data into intelligence and to assess risk in space systems, but advanced analytics can improve resilience, too. Advanced analytics can provide insights into the entire attack surface rooted in a greater understanding of how a myriad of systems interface with each other. This, in turn, can help identify and prioritize risk management challenges.
Extending the reach of analytical risk management tools across the threat surface—from the edge to the ground—can uncover new opportunities to make the nation’s systems more resilient. Agencies can use insights gained from this approach to make better decisions when identifying, prioritizing, and addressing potential risks to critical operations.
New, more dynamic, and comprehensive approaches to resilience can empower national assets to succeed in an increasingly contested domain. Making security a primary consideration in system design, shoring up systems to operate in the face of attack, and exploiting advanced analytics are all essential steps for improving cyber resiliency.
No system is perfectly secure. But space agencies now have the power to maximize the security and resilience of their systems. And with the approach outlined here, space agencies can make their systems better able to withstand disruptive cyber threats.