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Securing private, public US space assets

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Securing private, public US space assets

The Biden administration has recently focused its efforts on quelling cybersecurity threats here on Earth. But security threats also exist in outer space as the U.S. increasingly relies on government and commercial satellites and other space assets needed for telecommunications, 5G networks and defense systems technology.

The Wilson Center's Science and Technology Innovation Program will provide an overview of potential cyberthreats in space during a July 14 virtual program titled "Cybersecurity on the Final Frontier: Protecting Our Critical Space Assets from Cyber Threats." The Washington, D.C.-based center is holding the event in partnership with The Aerospace Corp. and the Space Information Sharing and Analysis Center.

Historically, the U.S. has been very dependent on space-based systems to power everything from global positioning systems to 5G networks and to provide the ability to take pictures of the Earth for weather information, said Melissa Griffith, a public policy fellow with the center's Science and Technology Innovation Program.

That reliance will only increase as rapidly evolving technology further enables satellite capabilities.

"There is an incredible range up there in terms of what we are using them for," Griffith said. "As our dependency increases on space-based systems, so does our need to protect those systems, to build out secure, defensible and resilient systems."

There have not been any publicly disclosed space security threats on the same level of, say, the SolarWinds Corp. breach, Griffith said.

But possible cyberspace threats could stem from nations such as Russia and China, which have considerable space technology capabilities, as well as criminal groups seeking to hack into systems that may result in the loss of critical connectivity with defense weapons and or communications systems. Those potential threats have increasingly become a concern as the U.S. intelligence community investigates reports of "unidentified aerial phenomena" that could indicate extraterrestrial activity. Griffith could not speak to that specifically as it is not her area of expertise.

But the cybersecurity issues are taking on extra significance at a time when a growing number of private companies are doing business in space with various business models and approaches to the way they manage security risk. As of January, there were a total of 1,897 operating U.S. satellites, 1,486 of which are commercial, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. There are also a total of 411 government, military and civil U.S. satellites.

Among the companies doing business in space are Blue Origin LLC, which was founded in 2000 by former Amazon.com Inc. CEO Jeff Bezos, and Space Exploration Technologies Corp., which operates the Starlink satellite broadband service. Amazon Web Services Inc. helps commercial and government customers build satellites and conduct space and launch operations. Lockheed Martin Corp. is the prime government contractor building NASA's Orion spacecraft.

Thus far, companies have generally focused less on security threats in space and more on ensuring system functionality in one of the harshest conditions known to mankind, Griffith said.

But the Wilson Center is encouraging policymakers and industry players to create frameworks for cybersecurity best practices, including identifying vendors in the supply chain that are high risk and pinpointing locations where ground-based stations — the brains of the satellites — can be more secure.

"One of the things that we are doing is saying, 'You're worried about this, we're worried about this, here are some questions you need to start asking industry to understand risk in this space,'" Griffith said.

Government

July 13 The Federal Communications Commission will hold its open meeting at 10:30 a.m. ET.
July 14 The U.S. House Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight will hold a hearing at 12 p.m. ET titled "Principles for Outbreak Investigation: Covid-19 and Future Infectious Diseases."
July 14 The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a business meeting at 10 a.m. ET to consider an original bill to invest in the energy and outdoor infrastructure of the United States to deploy new and innovative technologies, update existing infrastructure to be reliable and resilient, and secure energy infrastructure against physical and cyber threats, and for other purposes.
Industry, legal and think tank events
July 12-16 VentureBeat will host its "Transform" virtual event that brings together technical leaders on how to implement applied artificial intelligence.
July 14 The Wilson Center's Science and Technology Innovation Program will host an event at 3 p.m. ET titled "Cybersecurity on the Final Frontier: Protecting Our Critical Space Assets from Cyber Threats."
July 15 The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation will host a webinar at 1 p.m. titled "Removing Barriers to Accessibility on Federal Government Websites."


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