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.
Threat actors may perform specific techniques in order to bypass or disable the encryption mechanism onboard the victim spacecraft. By bypassing or disabling this particular mechanism, further tactics can be performed, such as Exfiltration, that may have not been possible with the internal encryption process in place.
Threat actors may take advantage of the victim spacecraft being in safe mode and send malicious commands that may not otherwise be processed. 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.
Threat actors may take advantage of the victim spacecraft being in safe mode and send malicious commands that may not otherwise be processed. 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 (i.e. security features) may be disabled at this time which would ensure the threat actor achieves evasion.
This technique deals with the more physical aspects of CCD that may be utilized by threat actors. There are numerous ways a threat actor may utilize the physical operating environment to their advantage, including powering down and laying dormant within debris fields as well as launching EMI attacks during space-weather events.
Space weather and its associated hazards imposed on spacecraft are a well-studied field of their own. However, it is also important to note the potential for threat actors to take advantage of heightened periods of solar activity to conduct electromagnetic interference (EMI) operations as they may be falsely attributed to natural events.
Organizations should look to identify and properly classify mission sensitive design/operations information (e.g., fault management approach) and apply access control accordingly. Any location (ground system, contractor networks, etc.) storing design information needs to ensure design info is protected from exposure, exfiltration, etc. Space system sensitive information may be classified as Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI) or Company Proprietary. Space system sensitive information can typically include a wide range of candidate material: the functional and performance specifications, any ICDs (like radio frequency, ground-to-space, etc.), command and telemetry databases, scripts, simulation and rehearsal results/reports, descriptions of uplink protection including any disabling/bypass features, failure/anomaly resolution, and any other sensitive information related to architecture, software, and flight/ground /mission operations. This could all need protection at the appropriate level (e.g., unclassified, CUI, proprietary, classified, etc.) to mitigate levels of cyber intrusions that may be conducted against the project’s networks. Stand-alone systems and/or separate database encryption may be needed with controlled access and on-going Configuration Management to ensure changes in command procedures and critical database areas are tracked, controlled, and fully tested to avoid loss of science or the entire mission. Sensitive documentation should only be accessed by personnel with defined roles and a need to know. Well established access controls (roles, encryption at rest and transit, etc.) and data loss prevention (DLP) technology are key countermeasures. The DLP should be configured for the specific data types in question.
Conduct a criticality analysis to identify mission critical functions, critical components, and data flows and reduce the vulnerability of such functions and components through secure system design. Focus supply chain protection on the most critical components/functions. Leverage other countermeasures like segmentation and least privilege to protect the critical components.
The credibility and effectiveness of many other types of defenses are enabled or enhanced by the ability to quickly detect, characterize, and attribute attacks against space systems. Space domain awareness (SDA) includes identifying and tracking space objects, predicting where objects will be in the future, monitoring the space environment and space weather, and characterizing the capabilities of space objects and how they are being used. Exquisite SDA—information that is more timely, precise, and comprehensive than what is publicly available—can help distinguish between accidental and intentional actions in space. SDA systems include terrestrial-based optical, infrared, and radar systems as well as space-based sensors, such as the U.S. military’s Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness Program (GSSAP) inspector satellites. Many nations have SDA systems with various levels of capability, and an increasing number of private companies (and amateur space trackers) are developing their own space surveillance systems, making the space environment more transparent to all users.*
Space-based RF mapping is the ability to monitor and analyze the RF environment that affects space systems both in space and on Earth. Similar to exquisite SDA, space-based RF mapping provides space operators with a more complete picture of the space environment, the ability to quickly distinguish between intentional and unintentional interference, and the ability to detect and geolocate electronic attacks. RF mapping can allow operators to better characterize jamming and spoofing attacks from Earth or from other satellites so that other defenses can be more effectively employed.*
Satellite maneuver is an operational tactic that can be used by satellites fitted with chemical thrusters to avoid kinetic and some directed energy ASAT weapons. For unguided projectiles, a satellite can be commanded to move out of their trajectory to avoid impact. If the threat is a guided projectile, like most direct-ascent ASAT and co-orbital ASAT weapons, maneuver becomes more difficult and is only likely to be effective if the satellite can move beyond the view of the onboard sensors on the guided warhead.*
Space systems can be operated and designed in ways that make them difficult to detect and track. Similar to platforms in other domains, stealthy satellites can use a smaller size, radar-absorbing coatings, radar-deflecting shapes, radar jamming and spoofing, unexpected or optimized maneuvers, and careful control of reflected radar, optical, and infrared energy to make themselves more difficult to detect and track. For example, academic research has shown that routine spacecraft maneuvers can be optimized to avoid detection by known sensors.*
A jammer or spoofer can be used to disrupt sensors on an incoming kinetic ASAT weapon so that it cannot steer itself effectively in the terminal phase of flight. When used in conjunction with maneuver, this could allow a satellite to effectively “dodge” a kinetic attack. Similar systems could also be used to deceive SDA sensors by altering the reflected radar signal to change the location, velocity, and number of satellites detected, much like digital radio frequency memory (DRFM) jammers used on many military aircraft today. A spacebased jammer can also be used to disrupt an adversary’s ability to communicate.*
*https://csis-website-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/publication/210225_Harrison_Defense_Space.pdf?N2KWelzCz3hE3AaUUptSGMprDtBlBSQGate with an ASAT weapon.
Deception can be used to conceal or mislead others on the “location, capability, operational status, mission type, and/or robustness” of a satellite. Public messaging, such as launch announcements, can limit information or actively spread disinformation about the capabilities of a satellite, and satellites can be operated in ways that conceal some of their capabilities. Another form of deception could be changing the capabilities or payloads on satellites while in orbit. Satellites with swappable payload modules could have on-orbit servicing vehicles that periodically move payloads from one satellite to another, further complicating the targeting calculus for an adversary because they may not be sure which type of payload is currently on which satellite. Satellites can also use tactical decoys to confuse the sensors on ASAT weapons and SDA systems. A satellite decoy can consist of an inflatable device designed to mimic the size and radar signature of a satellite, and multiple decoys can be stored on the satellite for deployment when needed. Electromagnetic decoys can also be used in space that mimic the RF signature of a satellite, similar to aircraft that use airborne decoys, such as the ADM-160 Miniature Air-launched Decoy (MALD).*
A space vehicle capable of docking with, manipulating, or maneuvering other satellites or pieces of debris can be used to thwart spacebased attacks or mitigate the effects after an attack has occurred. Such a system could be used to physically seize a threatening satellite that is being used to attack or endanger other satellites or to capture a satellite that has been disabled or hijacked for nefarious purposes. Such a system could also be used to collect and dispose of harmful orbital debris resulting from an attack. A key limitation of a physical seizure system is that each satellite would be time- and propellant-limited depending on the orbit in which it is stored. A system stored in GEO, for example, would not be well positioned to capture an object in LEO because of the amount of propellant required to maneuver into position. Physical seizure satellites may need to be stored on Earth and deployed once they are needed to a specific orbit to counter a specific threat.*
Satellite components can be vulnerable to the effects of background radiation in the space environment and deliberate attacks from HPM and electromagnetic pulse weapons. The effects can include data corruption on memory chips, processor resets, and short circuits that permanently damage components.*
Filters and shutters can be used on remote sensing satellites to protect sensors from laser dazzling and blinding. Filters can protect sensors by only allowing light of certain wavelengths to reach the sensors. Filters are not very effective against lasers operating at the same wavelengths of light the sensors are designed to detect because a filter that blocks these wavelengths would also block the sensor from its intended mission. A shutter acts by quickly blocking or diverting all light to a sensor once an anomaly is detected or a threshold is reached, which can limit damage but also temporarily interrupts the collection of data.*
Laser systems can be used to dazzle or blind the optical or infrared sensors on an incoming ASAT weapon in the terminal phase of flight. This is similar to the laser infrared countermeasures used on aircraft to defeat heat-seeking missiles. Blinding an ASAT weapon’s guidance system and then maneuvering to a new position (if necessary) could allow a satellite to effectively “dodge” a kinetic attack. It could also be used to dazzle or blind the optical sensors on inspector satellites to prevent them from imaging a satellite that wants to keep its capabilities concealed or to frustrate adversary SDA efforts.*
A component of cybersecurity to deny unauthorized persons information derived from telecommunications and to ensure the authenticity of such telecommunications. COMSEC includes cryptographic security, transmission security, emissions security, and physical security of COMSEC material. It is imperative to utilize secure communication protocols with strong cryptographic mechanisms to prevent unauthorized disclosure of, and detect changes to, information during transmission. Systems should also maintain the confidentiality and integrity of information during preparation for transmission and during reception. Spacecraft should not employ a mode of operations where cryptography on the TT&C link can be disabled (i.e., crypto-bypass mode). The cryptographic mechanisms should identify and reject wireless transmissions that are deliberate attempts to achieve imitative or manipulative communications deception based on signal parameters.
Authenticate all communication sessions (crosslink and ground stations) for all commands before establishing remote connections using bidirectional authentication that is cryptographically based. Adding authentication on the spacecraft bus and communications on-board the spacecraft is also recommended.
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.
This countermeasure is focused on the protection of terrestrial assets like ground networks and development environments/contractor networks, etc. Traditional detection technologies and capabilities would be applicable here. Utilizing resources from NIST CSF to properly secure these environments using identify, protect, detect, recover, and respond is likely warranted. Additionally, NISTIR 8401 may provide resources as well since it was developed to focus on ground-based security for space systems (https://nvlpubs.nist.gov/nistpubs/ir/2022/NIST.IR.8401.ipd.pdf). Furthermore, the MITRE ATT&CK framework provides IT focused TTPs and their mitigations https://attack.mitre.org/mitigations/enterprise/. Several recommended NIST 800-53 Rev5 controls are provided for reference when designing ground systems/networks.
Attempt to cloak when in safe-mode and ensure that when the system enters safe-mode it does not disable critical security features. Ensure basic protections like encryption are still being used on the uplink/downlink to prevent eavesdropping.
Utilize on-board intrusion detection/prevention system that monitors the mission critical components or systems and audit/logs actions. The IDS/IPS should have the capability to respond to threats (initial access, execution, persistence, evasion, exfiltration, etc.) and it should address signature-based attacks along with dynamic never-before seen attacks using machine learning/adaptive technologies. The IDS/IPS must integrate with traditional fault management to provide a wholistic approach to faults on-board the spacecraft. Spacecraft should select and execute safe countermeasures against cyber-attacks. These countermeasures are a ready supply of options to triage against the specific types of attack and mission priorities. Minimally, the response should ensure vehicle safety and continued operations. Ideally, the goal is to trap the threat, convince the threat that it is successful, and trace and track the attacker — with or without ground support. This would support successful attribution and evolving countermeasures to mitigate the threat in the future. “Safe countermeasures” are those that are compatible with the system’s fault management system to avoid unintended effects or fratricide on the system.