Cybersecurity in Space, and the Importance of Keeping Satellites Safe4 min read

What do cell phones, Google maps, and weather reports all have in common? The answer is simple: satellites. It’s hard to believe, but one of the most important technological advancements in history is influencing all of our daily routines, and we can’t even see them with the naked eye. Our atmosphere is littered with satellites, and while they are intended to be used for good, the wrong people can use them to cause great harm.

Over the years, the advancement of technology has made the impossible possible, but it also has opened the doors to unsavory figures who want to use that tech against us. It is very important that the powers that be take the security of our satellites seriously for the good of all.

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The Importance of Satellites

The importance of satellites cannot be understated. After all, just because you can’t see them doesn’t mean that they aren’t impacting just about everything you do. Currently, there are close to 2,000 active satellites in Earth’s orbit. Most of the satellites are used for communications and Earth observation, with the others offering navigation services and space observation. Around the globe, 81 countries have launched satellites, which means that the technology is available, and so is the possibility of cybercrime.

The people of Earth owe a lot to the technology facilitated by satellites. Most of the devices we count on use these orbiting contraptions, including your television, internet, and your phone’s GPS. Outside of your home, meteorologists use satellites to predict the weather, help pilots navigate the skies, and provide data to scientists about climate change

Currently, there are also military satellites in orbit that can run surveillance on enemy countries and pinpoint where enemies may be hiding. As technology advances, these military satellites may gain more capabilities, with many countries even intending to weaponize them with lasers and guns by the end of the next decade. With countless capabilities, satellites are too important to be compromised.

Cybersecurity Threats on Earth

Unfortunately, a darkness lurks in the form of cybercrime, and the results are already seen here on Earth. At this point, every industry from banking to healthcare is at risk of a cyberbreach. In fact, as of 2016, 14 million businesses have been at risk of a myriad of hacking threats from phishing scams to the invasion of personal devices. The fact is that no country is safe from cybercrime as global criminals use all of the weapons at their disposal to steal information for profit.

One of the emerging threats is ransomware attacks that take an electronic device hostage until a payment is made, usually in bitcoin. It’s not just personal computers, either. Over the last several years, hospitals have fallen victim to hackers who take control of their computer systems, even during surgeries, and refuse to release the systems until they are paid. In an effort to care for their patients, the ransom is usually paid before an investigation can be completed.

However, experts in cybersecurity are putting forth their best efforts to mitigate this type of crime. Advanced encryption and blockchain technology are being introduced that make stolen data completely unreadable. On top of that, the introduction of artificial intelligence allows computer systems to learn from past hacks and predict future attacks before they occur. 

When Satellites and Cybersecurity Collide

Experts must continue to work to ensure that the cybercrimes that are occurring down on Earth do not make it to space and our orbiting satellites. The potential damage cannot be underplayed. A nation’s satellites can be used against them through espionage, the compromising of GPS signals, and the shutting down of a satellite, which would blind an enemy and leave them vulnerable to attack. Not to mention that those same ransomware attacks can be used to hold satellites hostage.

Because the idea of outer space hacking is a relatively new idea, many satellites are not properly guarded against these threats. In fact, it has been found that the ability to hack satellites has become even easier as tech-savvy individuals use high-power antennas to cause damage from the ground. Recent news suggests that Russia, China, and North Korea have all launched cyberattacks against United States satellites, and the government is stepping in.

However, satellites are not totally defenseless, and experts are always looking at new ways to defend our space technology while convincing our politicians that it is worth the cost to do so. One method that they are looking at is making the process harder for enemies by switching over to more complex passwords or updating software on a regular basis. At a minimum, contractors should complete detailed risk assessments before a new satellite is sent out. These assessments would take into account all possible issues, rate them in terms of potential, and have an action plan, including data recovery, if the damage does occur.

Yes, we certainly do live in a new time where technology makes our lives easier and more entertaining. However, with advanced tech comes new threats, and our governments must take the situation seriously to avoid potential catastrophe.

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Sam Bowman

Sam Bowman writes about science and tech. He enjoys getting to utilize the internet for
community without actually having to leave his house. In his spare time he likes running,
reading, and combining the two in a run to his local bookstore.
Sam Bowman
Avatar

Sam Bowman writes about science and tech. He enjoys getting to utilize the internet for community without actually having to leave his house. In his spare time he likes running, reading, and combining the two in a run to his local bookstore.

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