Secure boot

Software/Firmware must verify a trust chain that extends through the hardware root of trust, boot loader, boot configuration file, and operating system image, in that order. The trusted boot/RoT computing module should be implemented on radiation tolerant burn-in (non-programmable) equipment. 


Best Segment for Countermeasure Deployment

  • Space Segment

NIST Rev5 Controls


ISO 27001

ID: CM0014
ESA Space Shield Mitigation:  M1046
D3FEND Artifacts:  Boot Loader | Hardware Driver | Software | File
Created: 2022/10/19
Last Modified: 2023/11/29

Techniques Addressed by Countermeasure

ID Name Description
IA-0001 Compromise Supply Chain Threat actors may manipulate or compromise products or product delivery mechanisms before the customer receives them in order to achieve data or system compromise.
.02 Software Supply Chain Threat actors may manipulate software binaries and applications prior to the customer receiving them in order to achieve data or system compromise. This attack can take place in a number of ways, including manipulation of source code, manipulation of the update and/or distribution mechanism, or replacing compiled versions with a malicious one.
IA-0002 Compromise Software Defined Radio Threat actors may target software defined radios due to their software nature to establish C2 channels. Since SDRs are programmable, when combined with supply chain or development environment attacks, SDRs provide a pathway to setup covert C2 channels for a threat actor.
IA-0004 Secondary/Backup Communication Channel Threat actors may compromise alternative communication pathways which may not be as protected as the primary pathway. Depending on implementation the contingency communication pathways/solutions may lack the same level of security (i.e., physical security, encryption, authentication, etc.) which if forced to use could provide a threat actor an opportunity to launch attacks. Typically these would have to be coupled with other denial of service techniques on the primary pathway to force usage of secondary pathways.
.02 Receiver Threat actors may target the backup/secondary receiver on the space vehicle as a method to inject malicious communications into the mission. The secondary receivers may come from different supply chains than the primary which could have different level of security and weaknesses. Similar to the ground station, the communication through the secondary receiver could be forced or happening naturally.
IA-0007 Compromise Ground System Threat actors may initially compromise the ground system in order to access the target spacecraft. Once compromised, the threat actor can perform a multitude of initial access techniques, including replay, compromising FSW deployment, compromising encryption keys, and compromising authentication schemes. Threat actors may also perform further reconnaissance within the system to enumerate mission networks and gather information related to ground station logical topology, missions ran out of said ground station, birds that are in-band of targeted ground stations, and other mission system capabilities.
.01 Compromise On-Orbit Update Threat actors may manipulate and modify on-orbit updates before they are sent to the target spacecraft. This attack can be done in a number of ways, including manipulation of source code, manipulating environment variables, on-board table/memory values, or replacing compiled versions with a malicious one.
EX-0004 Compromise Boot Memory Threat actors may manipulate boot memory in order to execute malicious code, bypass internal processes, or DoS the system. This technique can be used to perform other tactics such as Defense Evasion.
EX-0005 Exploit Hardware/Firmware Corruption Threat actors can target the underlying hardware and/or firmware using various TTPs that will be dependent on the specific hardware/firmware. Typically, software tools (e.g., antivirus, antimalware, intrusion detection) can protect a system from threat actors attempting to take advantage of those vulnerabilities to inject malicious code. However, there exist security gaps that cannot be closed by the above-mentioned software tools since they are not stationed on software applications, drivers or the operating system but rather on the hardware itself. Hardware components, like memory modules and caches, can be exploited under specific circumstances thus enabling backdoor access to potential threat actors. In addition to hardware, the firmware itself which often is thought to be software in its own right also provides an attack surface for threat actors. Firmware is programming that's written to a hardware device's non-volatile memory where the content is saved when a hardware device is turned off or loses its external power source. Firmware is written directly onto a piece of hardware during manufacturing and it is used to run on the device and can be thought of as the software that enables hardware to run. In the space vehicle context, firmware and field programmable gate array (FPGA)/application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) logic/code is considered equivalent to firmware.
.01 Design Flaws Threat actors may target design features/flaws with the hardware design to their advantage to cause the desired impact. Threat actors may utilize the inherent design of the hardware (e.g. hardware timers, hardware interrupts, memory cells), which is intended to provide reliability, to their advantage to degrade other aspects like availability. Additionally, field programmable gate array (FPGA)/application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) logic can be exploited just like software code can be exploited. There could be logic/design flaws embedded in the hardware (i.e., FPGA/ASIC) which may be exploitable by a threat actor.
PER-0001 Memory Compromise Threat actors may manipulate memory (boot, RAM, etc.) in order for their malicious code and/or commands to remain on the victim spacecraft. The spacecraft may have mechanisms that allow for the automatic running of programs on system reboot, entering or returning to/from safe mode, or during specific events. Threat actors may target these specific memory locations in order to store their malicious code or file, ensuring that the attack remains on the system even after a reset.
PER-0002 Backdoor Threat actors may find and target various backdoors, or inject their own, within the victim spacecraft in the hopes of maintaining their attack.
.02 Software Threat actors may inject code to create their own backdoor to establish persistent access to the spacecraft. This may be done through modification of code throughout the software supply chain or through modification of the software-defined radio configuration (if applicable).
DE-0007 Rootkit Rootkits are programs that hide the existence of malware by intercepting/hooking and modifying operating system API calls that supply system information. Rootkits or rootkit enabling functionality may reside at the flight software or kernel level in the operating system or lower, to include a hypervisor, Master Boot Record, or System Firmware.
DE-0008 Bootkit Adversaries may use bootkits to persist on systems and evade detection. Bootkits reside at a layer below the operating system and may make it difficult to perform full remediation unless an organization suspects one was used and can act accordingly.
EXF-0006 Modify Communications Configuration Threat actors can manipulate communications equipment, modifying the existing software, hardware, or the transponder configuration to exfiltrate data via unintentional channels the mission has no control over.
.01 Software Defined Radio Threat actors may target software defined radios due to their software nature to setup exfiltration channels. Since SDRs are programmable, when combined with supply chain or development environment attacks, SDRs provide a pathway to setup covert exfiltration channels for a threat actor.
.02 Transponder Threat actors may change the transponder configuration to exfiltrate data via radio access to an attacker-controlled asset.

Space Threats Addressed by Countermeasure

ID Description
SV-IT-2 Unauthorized modification or corruption of data  
SV-SP-9 On-orbit software updates/upgrades/patches/direct memory writes. If TT&C is compromised or MOC or even the developer's environment, the risk exists to do a variation of a supply chain attack where after it is in orbit you inject malicious code  
SV-IT-3 Compromise boot memory  
SV-SP-11 Software defined radios - SDR is also another computer, networked to other parts of the spacecraft that could be pivoted to by an attacker and infected with malicious code. Once access to an SDR is gained, the attacker could alter what the SDR thinks is correct frequencies and settings to communicate with the ground.  
SV-SP-7 Software can be broken down into three levels (operating system and drivers’ layer, data handling service layer, and the application layer). Highest impact on system is likely the embedded code at the BIOS, kernel/firmware level. Attacking the on-board operating systems. Since it manages all the programs and applications on the computer, it has a critical role in the overall security of the system. Since threats may occur deliberately or due to human error, malicious programs or persons, or existing system vulnerability mitigations must be deployed to protect the OS.