Insights Telecoms & satcoms

Why should you enhance the security of your satellite communications?


Satellite communications systems have been around for decades. Many organisations are now totally dependent on them for their commercial success. The main reasons that many commercial businesses adopted satellite communications comes down to two key characteristics of this technology.
Firstly, they are extremely reliable and robust. Secondly, in many cases, they are the only effective method of communication particularly in very remote areas, (for example, agriculture, mining, middle of an ocean), or where normal cellular communications infrastructure is not readily available.

However, this communication approach is now facing a growing threat from cyber criminals who see rich pickings from interrupting; intercepting; exploiting the valuable data you are using to run your commercial operation; or are relying on to manage critical infrastructure.

A successful cyber attack on satellite data communications could potentially impact the lives of millions of people. Taking over control of a satellite itself could be serious enough to allow the attacker to alter its course, with disastrous consequences, raises the need and urgency to implement a more secure solution.

If the James Bond movie franchise has taught us anything in films like Goldeneye and Die Another Day, it is that hijacking and weaponizing satellites potentially gives criminals the ultimate in power and control.

This might seem like science fiction, but last year, there was a Russian backed cyber attack against ground terminals in Ukraine, which signalled a shift in weaponizing the commercial space sector, illustrating that satellites can be pawns in geopolitical conflicts.

According to the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA), there are 8,261 individual satellites orbiting Earth, but only 4,852 are actively used.

The impending merger between global mobile satellite companies Inmarsat and Viasat, intend to launch 10 new satellites as part of the merger to enable the availability of advanced new services in mobile and fixed segments, driving greater customer choice in broadband communications and narrowband services (including the Internet of Things or “IoT”).

Satellites are designed to receive information from Earth stations (e.g. TV broadcast stations) by way of microwave transmissions. These communications can be intercepted and altered. Among the most common threats used are – spoofing, hijacking, eavesdropping and GPS jamming.
And, security experts predict that as the satellite industry grows, so too will its security issues as its creating an expanding attack surface. Attacks have been going on for many years, with Gen. David Thompson, US Space Force, commenting that ‘threats are growing and expanding every single day’ when talking about attacks on US satellites to the Washington Post.

So, what is the solution?

As a result, many satellite operators have taken steps in recent years toward improving security measures within their networks.

    • Implementing firewalls on both ground stations and user equipment to limit access by unauthorised users

    • Improved authentication procedures for accessing internal systems (such as those used for monitoring)

    • As well as intrusion detection systems, along with mechanisms for filtering out suspicious traffic

The challenge with satellite cyber security is that it requires a lot of coordination between multiple organisations, security vendors and levels of government, which can sometimes make it difficult to implement effective security measures.

However, keeping up with the latest trends in satellite technology will help organisations to stay secure, compliant to industry regulations, and enable companies and authorities to stay ahead of any cyber security threats. As satellites tend to have a shelf life in orbit from between five to fifteen years, futureproofing and forward planning this technology will be key to staying ahead of the attackers.

One key technology that could be used to thwart hacking attempts is quantum-safe cryptography because it allows data to be transmitted in a way that ensures it cannot be hacked or intercepted with today’s computers or by future quantum computers.
Current encryption standards like RSA are, already becoming outdated in the face of future quantum computers, and today’s communication devices are also becoming more vulnerable. Quantum-safe encryption is needed now to protect and extend the life of businesses and critical communications. The recommendation is not to wait until quantum computers are in the hands of the attackers, but for companies to plan and level up their security provisions as soon as possible, to prevent them from becoming obsolete.

Satellites are a fundamental part of our global communications systems today and will continue to be well into the future. Standard protections and encryption methods do exist, today, but we need to find ways to enhance our security mechanisms and think ahead so that our satellites are inherently less prone to being hacked. Quantum-safe cryptography exists today and can be used as a way to protect valuable and sensitive data transmissions, making it harder for anyone trying to disrupt economies or any other nefarious scheme.

For more information

CyberHive’s mission is to stay one step ahead of the threat actors and one step ahead of technology.

Our post-quantum resistant technology minimises the risk of data being decrypted in the future and can protect your sensitive information assets for years to come.

CyberHive win the techUK Cyber Innovation Den Pitching Competition 2022 with a pitch about CyberHive Connect and the application to Critical National Infrastructure.

Contact our specialist team today for more info on how we can help support your business – [email protected]

Get in touch

If you have a question or would like some more information, contact us today.