Wed 15 Feb 2023

Cyber-securing our place in space

Cyber-securing our place in space

As the war in Ukraine reiterates the significance of space in relation to national security, defence and prosperity, it is becoming increasingly important to consider the role of cybersecurity in space and the impact of space-related security and protection on organisations operating across multiple sectors here on Earth, such as government, transport, science, communications, agriculture and more.

Initiatives for national defence

In light of the Ukraine situation, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) has highlighted the importance of protecting and securing space technologies in times of war for the purposes of national defence. In 2022, it issued its first Space Policy to promote the secure use of and access to space and cyberspace. Similarly, an EU Space Strategy for Security and Defence is expected to be planned and presented this year, with the objective being to strengthen the EU’s defence package and strategic compass for defence and security, and bolster more recent documents covering its defence capabilities.

On top of these, multiple other initiatives have also recently been issued, focusing on the need for cybersecurity across the space sector. These include, but are not limited to:

  • The EU Defence Innovation Scheme (which sees the investment of nearly €2bn to implement support measures to help European companies bring their ideas to defence end-users);
  • The Secure World Foundation’s 2022 Global Counterspace Capabilities Report (which stresses an increasing dependence on space for national security strategies in various countries);
  • The Communication Contribution to European Defence (which highlights the need to strengthen the security and defence dimension of space and reduce dependencies on certain technologies such as chips); and
  • The Communication Defence Investment Gaps Analysis and Way Forward (which demonstrates the importance of satellite-based security connectivity and the protection of space infrastructure against threats);

Security for everyday life

Securing our space sector is also important for non-war purposes. The UK Space Agency (UKSCA) points out that space-based services are integrated in our everyday life, and we rely on space-tech much more than we might realise. For example, consider how dependent we are on satellites. Without them, our televisions would not work, aeroplanes would not have access to GPS tracking, and worldwide telecommunications or even banking facilities would suffer interruptions.

One of key roles of the UKSCA is to work with organisations operating in the space sector to support the development of its cybersecurity and improve understanding in the sector of potential risks from cyber-threats. The goal is to equip the sector over the coming years with the skills and understanding it needs to identify, address, report and appropriately action cyber-security threats when they arise.

For the industries so reliant on satellites – such as aviation, shipping and telecommunications – to ensure they continue operating with minimal disruption, the security of space-technologies is essential, and space security should therefore also remain on the radar of organisations who are not directly operating in space, but nonetheless reliant on space-based technologies. The biggest challenge is the fact that once a satellite is launched its hardware cannot be easily changed, therefore, it is important to recognise cyber threats in the development stage.

Recent UK security activity

The UK has also been showing its commitment to ensuring security in the space sector.

Some of the key actions are listed below:

  • The UK Office of Communications (Ofcom) published a statement on its recently proposed Space Spectrum Strategy for the management of radio spectrum used by the space sector;
  • The UK published the Joint Doctrine Publication, UK Space Power (First Edition), which lays out the role of defence in protecting space and announced huge investment of £1.4billion in cutting-edge technology to protect UK interests in space;
  • The UK Civil Aviation Authority issued Spaceport Cornwall in November 2022 with the first UK spaceport licence to operate a UK spaceport and conduct horizontal space launches;
  • The Electronic Communications (Security Measures) Regulations 2022 (2022 Regulations) and the Telecommunications Security Code of Practice (Code of Practice) entered into force; and
  • The UK Space Agency and the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs released a report on space-related climate action efforts;

The 2022 Regulations

Taking a look at the Electronic Communications (Security Measures) Regulations 2022 and the Telecommunications Security Code of Practice, these are of particular interest as they complement each other to address and action risks to the security of the UK’s public telecom networks and services.

The 2022 Regulations set out specific security measures for telecom providers to take in addition to their duties under the Communications Act 2003. The changes made by the Regulations support the security of the UK’s telecoms networks and services by ensuring that public telecoms providers:

  • protect data stored by their networks and services, and secure the critical functions which allow them to be operated and managed;
  • protect tools which monitor and analyse their networks and services against access from hostile state actors;
  • monitor public networks to identify potentially dangerous activity and have a deep understanding of their security risks, reporting regularly to internal boards; and
  • take account of supply chain risks, and understand and control who has the ability to access and make changes to the operation of their networks and services.

Providers that fail to comply with the regulations could face fines of up to 10% of turnover of up to £100,000 per day in cases of continued breach.  In a Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport press release, the UK Government stated that the new Regulations, which have been developed with the assistance from National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), will be among the strongest in the world.

Ofcom will monitor and enforce compliance with the regulations using the Code of Practice, which sets out guidance on how providers can comply with the Regulations. In short, it explains what good telecoms security is, highlights the key concepts of the Regulations, and sets out measures that providers can take to demonstrate compliance with their legal obligations.

Closing remarks

We have many reasons to propel the cause of defence and cybersecurity in space and these range from the domestic level to the global level. Space-based technologies play a huge role in our everyday lives, and many industries are dependent on them for the integrity of their operations. Recent space activity and discussions have highlighted the importance of protecting space-based technologies while also reflecting the UK’s continued efforts at securing our place (and our data) in space.

If you have any queries in relation to data security in telecoms and the space sector, please contact a member of our Cyber Security team and we will be delighted to help.

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