Experts: Cyber attacks present growing threat across space enterprise

Hackers, not missiles, present the biggest threat to satellites, a panel of experts told an audience at the 39th Space Symposium.

Hacking is easier and less costly than other means of attacking assets in space, denying space assets to militaries and civil governments. It’s a tactic demonstrated in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and a growing threat.

“Malicious cyber activity is becoming more sophisticated, impacting sectors from health to education to critical infrastructure, including, of course, space,” said Steve Riccardi, the principal director for the office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Cyber Policy.

Rivals including China and Russia continue to build capacity to attack satellites with hacking. Cybersecurity threats include intercepting satellite signals to gather illicit intelligence and using satellites as a pipeline to push malicious software to computers on the ground.

Robert Powell, NASA’s senior advisor for cybersecurity said hackers’ threat to satellites aren’t limited to military satellites, with civil and commercial systems also targeted.

“We are remarkably familiar with the cyber abilities applicable to the ground systems, and now we must start really ensuring that our spacecraft, our vehicles, our assets that we launch are also protected against proliferation of cyber vulnerabilities,” Powell said.