Traffic Flow Analysis Defense

Utilizing techniques to assure traffic flow security and confidentiality to mitigate or defeat traffic analysis attacks or reduce the value of any indicators or adversary inferences. This may be a subset of COMSEC protections, but the techniques would be applied where required to links that carry TT&C and/or data transmissions (to include on-board the spacecraft) where applicable given value and attacker capability. Techniques may include but are not limited to methods to pad or otherwise obfuscate traffic volumes/duration and/or periodicity, concealment of routing information and/or endpoints, or methods to frustrate statistical analysis.


Best Segment for Countermeasure Deployment

  • Space Segment

NIST Rev5 Controls

D3FEND Techniques

D3FEND Artifacts

ISO 27001

ID: CM0073
NASA Best Practice Guide:  MI-AUTH-01 | MI-AUTH-02 | MI-INTG-01 | MI-DCO-02
ESA Space Shield Mitigation:  M2031
Created: 2022/12/08
Last Modified: 2023/10/17

Techniques Addressed by Countermeasure

ID Name Description
REC-0005 Eavesdropping Threat actors may seek to capture network communications throughout the ground station and radio frequency (RF) communication used for uplink and downlink communications. RF communication frequencies vary between 30MHz and 60 GHz. Threat actors may capture RF communications using specialized hardware, such as software defined radio (SDR), handheld radio, or a computer with radio demodulator turned to the communication frequency. Network communications may be captured using packet capture software while the threat actor is on the target network.
.01 Uplink Intercept Threat actors may capture the RF communications as it pertains to the uplink to the victim spacecraft. This information can contain commanding information that the threat actor can use to perform other attacks against the victim spacecraft.
.02 Downlink Intercept Threat actors may capture the RF communications as it pertains to the downlink of the victim spacecraft. This information can contain important telemetry such as onboard status and mission data.
.03 Proximity Operations Threat actors may capture signals and/or network communications as they travel on-board the vehicle (i.e., EMSEC/TEMPEST), via RF, or terrestrial networks. This information can be decoded to determine commanding and telemetry protocols, command times, and other information that could be used for future attacks.
REC-0007 Monitor for Safe-Mode Indicators Threat actors may gather information regarding safe-mode indicators on the victim spacecraft. Safe-mode is when all non-essential systems are shut down and only essential functions within the spacecraft are active. During this mode, several commands are available to be processed that are not normally processed. Further, many protections may be disabled at this time.
EX-0001 Replay Replay attacks involve threat actors recording previously recorded data streams and then resending them at a later time. This attack can be used to fingerprint systems, gain elevated privileges, or even cause a denial of service.
.01 Command Packets Threat actors may interact with the victim spacecraft by replaying captured commands to the spacecraft. While not necessarily malicious in nature, replayed commands can be used to overload the target spacecraft and cause it's onboard systems to crash, perform a DoS attack, or monitor various responses by the spacecraft. If critical commands are captured and replayed, thruster fires, then the impact could impact the spacecraft's attitude control/orbit.
EXF-0002 Side-Channel Attack Threat actors may use a side-channel attack attempts to gather information by measuring or exploiting indirect effects of the spacecraft. Information within the spacecraft can be extracted through these side-channels in which sensor data is analyzed in non-trivial ways to recover subtle, hidden or unexpected information. A series of measurements of a side-channel constitute an identifiable signature which can then be matched against a signature database to identify target information, without having to explicitly decode the side-channel.
.03 Traffic Analysis Attacks In a terrestrial environment, threat actors use traffic analysis attacks to analyze traffic flow to gather topological information. This traffic flow can divulge information about critical nodes, such as the aggregator node in a sensor network. In the space environment, specifically with relays and constellations, traffic analysis can be used to understand the energy capacity of spacecraft node and the fact that the transceiver component of a spacecraft node consumes the most power. The spacecraft nodes in a constellation network limit the use of the transceiver to transmit or receive information either at a regulated time interval or only when an event has been detected. This generally results in an architecture comprising some aggregator spacecraft nodes within a constellation network. These spacecraft aggregator nodes are the sensor nodes whose primary purpose is to relay transmissions from nodes toward the ground station in an efficient manner, instead of monitoring events like a normal node. The added functionality of acting as a hub for information gathering and preprocessing before relaying makes aggregator nodes an attractive target to side channel attacks. A possible side channel attack could be as simple as monitoring the occurrences and duration of computing activities at an aggregator node. If a node is frequently in active states (instead of idle states), there is high probability that the node is an aggregator node and also there is a high probability that the communication with the node is valid. Such leakage of information is highly undesirable because the leaked information could be strategically used by threat actors in the accumulation phase of an attack.
EXF-0003 Eavesdropping Threat actors may seek to capture network communications throughout the ground station and communication channel (i.e. radio frequency, optical) used for uplink and downlink communications
.01 Uplink Intercept Threat actors may target the uplink connection from the victim ground infrastructure to the target spacecraft in order to exfiltrate commanding data. Depending on the implementation (i.e., encryption) the captured uplink data can be used to further other attacks like command link intrusion, replay, etc.
.02 Downlink Intercept Threat actors may target the downlink connection from the victim spacecraft in order to exfiltrate telemetry or payload data. This data can include health information of the spacecraft or mission data that is being collected/analyzed on the spacecraft. Downlinked data can even include mirrored command sessions which can be used for future campaigns or to help perpetuate other techniques.
EXF-0004 Out-of-Band Communications Link Threat actors may attempt to exfiltrate data via the out-of-band communication channels. While performing eavesdropping on the primary/second uplinks and downlinks is a method for exfiltration, some space vehicles leverage out-of-band communication links to perform actions on the space vehicle (i.e., re-keying). These out-of-band links would occur on completely different channels/frequencies and often operate on separate hardware on the space vehicle. Typically these out-of-band links have limited built-for-purpose functionality and likely do not present an initial access vector but they do provide ample exfiltration opportunity.
EXF-0005 Proximity Operations Threat actors may leverage the lack of emission security or tempest controls to exfiltrate information using a visiting spacecraft. This is similar to side-channel attacks but leveraging a visiting spacecraft to measure the signals for decoding purposes.

Space Threats Addressed by Countermeasure

ID Description
SV-CF-1 Tapping of communications links (wireline, RF, network) resulting in loss of confidentiality; Traffic analysis to determine which entities are communicating with each other without being able to read the communicated information