Cyber Fundamentals: The key to unlocking the potential of SATCOM and space

Explore the current state of space cybersecurity, including new innovations, unique challenges, and Viasat’s core principles for protecting space networks.

Earth viewed from space with lock symbols superimposed to symbolize space cybersecurity

Andriy Onufriyenko/Getty Images

Earlier this year, the Biden administration issued a National Cybersecurity Strategy focused on building collaboration and addressing a rapidly-evolving digital world, which comes with sophisticated threats to government, critical infrastructure, and broader commercial sector businesses and organizations.

With growing reliance on space capabilities across sectors in the U.S. and around the world, there is widespread discussion of the growing impact of space networks as critical support systems for national security and commercial business.

This new critical role means that space networks are at higher risk to be targeted by adversarial cyber threats. In order to unlock the potential of advanced satellite communications (SATCOM) capabilities and achieve new endeavors in space, then, the right space cybersecurity practices must be implemented.

In this article, we will discuss the dynamic SATCOM landscape and its evolving threat environment, the unique challenges related to protecting space-based networks, and Viasat’s core principles for effective space cybersecurity in 2023 and beyond.

Quick takeaways:

  • Advancing space-based technology presents exciting opportunities for the future, but comes with complex cybersecurity challenges.
  • Global investment in space activity from public and private entities is growing rapidly.
  • Regulation of space activity has been happening for decades, but is often playing catch-up to technology advancements.
  • Hardware security is a critical aspect of space cybersecurity that must continue to be prioritized, even as organizations operate more heavily on the cloud.

What’s different about cybersecurity for space networks?

Today, much of the world’s vital infrastructure relies on space-based assets to operate. This includes critical systems and processes like communications, national defense, GPS, weather monitoring, financial services, air transportation, and more.

This dependence will only intensify over time, as demonstrated by research showing the massive growth of space activity for various sectors for the foreseeable future. Global financial investment in space-based activity from public and private entities will reach $1 trillion by 2040—nearly tripling over a 25-year span.

And while space technology and infrastructure present exciting opportunities for the future, the nature of our dependence on it as a global society is complex—especially from a cybersecurity perspective.

In space, there are no national boundaries. Efforts by the United Nations to regulate space activity and require responsible behavior from nation states has been happening for decades, but enforcement can still be ambiguous. Regulatory activities also often lag behind fast-advancing space-based technologies and initiatives.

In addition, the attack surface for space-based infrastructure is complex and multi-faceted. It includes satellite networks, ground infrastructure, as well as physical space assets. Collectively these require a number of varied but coordinated cybersecurity strategies to stay protected.

Moving forward, active and forward-thinking approaches to space cybersecurity from entities operating in this realm will be critical to prevent cyberattacks that could make an impact on a global scale.

Viasat’s core principles for protecting satellite networks

At Viasat, space cybersecurity is embedded into everything we do. It’s top-of-mind for our teams as we provide services to customers, engage in partnerships, and embark on new initiatives both in space and on the ground.

In our continual quest to pioneer space-based innovation and internet accessibility, there are three space cybersecurity principles that are the core of how we operate:

1. Protecting from diverse global adversaries

As a worldwide satellite network service provider, Viasat deals with almost every kind of adversary that exists around the world. It’s imperative that we act intentionally in both our infrastructure development and partner engagements.

We take great care over where we choose to put our infrastructure so that it can be better secured from the start. Risk management is a key consideration in strategy development and service provision.

At the same time, we perform the due diligence necessary to anticipate our adversaries. In practice, this means staying on the pulse of fast-evolving space cybersecurity dynamics, understanding sociopolitical undertones and motivations that could create threats, and entering partnerships carefully.

2. Managing complexity with zero trust

Space networks include a diverse set of physical assets, including radios, edge devices, home terminals, IoT devices, and ground systems operating around the world and on different frequencies. Viasat stays on the cutting edge of these and other technologies that impact space networks.

To keep networks secure, we implement robust zero-trust measures that go beyond enterprise-level authentication practices and encompass the continual development of highly resilient, tailored, agile, and comprehensive breach prevention strategies.

3. Prioritizing hardware security

Space cybersecurity will always require protection of hardware assets critical to space-based networks and operations. Viasat achieves this through proactive measures such as frequent penetration testing and participation in bug bounty programs. These activities simulate real cybersecurity attacks and enable us to develop sophisticated, scenario-based hardware security strategies before a real threat occurs.

Looking to the future

Going forward, space-based technologies will continue to advance at a rapid pace, and so must space cybersecurity. As cyber adversaries become more advanced, potential threats will become more diverse and the likelihood of a space-based attack will grow.

Further, the global scale of SATCOM networks means a single cyber attack could have an impact more far-reaching than even the largest terrestrial network attacks we’ve seen so far.

Organizations must take proactive measures now to implement space cybersecurity best practices that protect their infrastructures, data, organizations, and the individuals they serve.

Learn more about Viasat’s industry-leading cybersecurity solutions.