Defying Gravity: The Cyber Security Frontier in Space and Beyond

The UK space industry is experiencing rapid growth, positioning itself as a prominent player in the global space sector. In the recent research delivered by UK Parliament, the total UK space industry income grew to £16.5 billion (+5.1%) in 2021 and supports around 47,000 jobs across the country.

On 31st March 2023, Citation Cyber’s Chief Technology Officer, Zain Javed, attended Insider’s round table session ‘Bringing Space Back Down to Earth’, to discuss the emerging space-enabled opportunities for North West businesses. The North West are one of the largest aerospace and defence manufacturing sectors in Europe; home to 124 space organisations, and employs a total of 2,862 professionals.

Over the past few decades, the use of space satellites is becoming more essential for day-to-day life – supporting a range of public services such as navigation, weather forecasting, disaster relief, and telecommunications.

In an era where technology plays a critical role in the advancement of the space industry, the need for robust cyber security measures has become increasingly vital. With the space industry expanding at an unprecedented pace and private companies contracting with space agencies, ensuring the security of space-related infrastructure, data, and communications has become a fundamental element.  

Cyber Security Challenges and Opportunities

One of the biggest problems the space industry faces in particular is the skills shortage within the computer sciences, artificial intelligence, data science, and cyber security (Parliament, 2023). This leaves the space infrastructure vulnerable to cyber attacks, jeopardise intellectual property and innovation, and threatens national security. However, with increasing investments to being made to enhance the UK’s cyber security programme, in particular the £5 billion investment into Cyber Force due to launch in Samlesbury in 2025, there is a huge opportunity to getting space cyber right.

Like any business, it isn’t just your own technologies and networks that need to have air-tight security – any contractors, supply chain, and 3rd parties all need to be able to demonstrate resilient defences to protect their data and devices, and the space sector is no exception. There is an increasing need and demand for space industry contractors to demonstrate mitigated risk.

Satellites, space stations, ground-based infrastructure, and communication networks create a complex and extensive attack surface for potential cyber intrusions. Therefore, the need for robust cyber security measures within this sector has become increasingly vital; disruptions to orbiting navigation systems is estimated to cost the UK economy £1 billion per day of downtime.

The fundamentals of cyber security apply to any sector. With [the space industry], you have satellites and equipment – not just in space – but also at controls centres, which are vulnerable to cyber attacks. The more education and awareness we can spread, the more we will start those conversations.

As the space industry continues to expand and private companies play an increasingly prominent role, cyber security is now fundamental element in ensuring the prosperity of this sector. Space organisations and their contractors must prioritise robust cyber security practices, mitigating risks, and improving space infrastructure against the evolving threat landscape.

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