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Data traveling through space could become priority target for cybercriminals

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As we've entered a new era of space exploration where commercial companies such as Elon Musk's Space X and Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin, along with smaller companies, have begun to launch satellites into orbit, a new report from the cybersecurity company McAfee warns that space may be the next frontier for cybercriminals.

In a recently published technical research paper, the firm's Advanced Threat Research team in collaboration with Cork Institute of Technology, Blackrock Castle Observatory and the National Space Center in Cork, Ireland, have outlined the threats posed to space 4.0.

According to the European Space Agency, space 4.0 represents the evolution of the space sector into a new era where governments and private sector businesses are working together with an increased number of diverse space actors around the world to launch small satellites and make commercial space travel a reality.

Up until now, cyberattacks in space have been fairly infrequent though the extent of these attacks is not known due to the fact the majority of the industry is operated by government agencies. However, with the proliferation of small satellites currently being launched into orbit by commercial companies, there will likely be an uptick in the number of publicly known cyberattacks in space.

Taking a cybersecurity approach to space

In a blog post outlining the findings from their technical research paper, McAfee's Eoin Carroll and Christiaan Beek explained why space security should adopt a cybersecurity approach, saying:

“Space security has typically been analyzed from the perspective of ground segment, communications or datalink and space segment. Additionally, the attack classes have been categorized as electronic (jamming), eavesdropping, hijacking and control. We need to think about Space 4.0 with a cybersecurity approach due to the increased connectivity and data, as opposed to the traditional approach of ground, communication and space segments. Cybercriminals will target the data and systems as opposed to the RF transmission layer.”

The research team also likened the emerging Space 4.0 industry to the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) where hardware makers brought a number of new devices to market without proper security protections in place. This has led IoT devices to become a popular target for cybercriminals and if the space industry isn't careful, the same thing could happen to satellites and other devices as well.

McAfee's Advanced Threat Research team believes that now is the time for the space industry to take steps to secure their devices or risk repeating the mistakes of the IoT where “the rush to adopt new and faster technology resulted in large scale deployment of insecure hardware and software”.

Via Verdict

After living and working in South Korea for seven years, Anthony now resides in Houston, Texas where he writes about a variety of technology topics for ITProPortal and TechRadar. He has been a tech enthusiast for as long as he can remember and has spent countless hours researching and tinkering with PCs, mobile phones and game consoles.