Threat actor is trying to execute malicious code on the spacecraft

Informational References

ID: ST0004


ID Name Description
EX-0001 Replay Replay attacks involve threat actors recording previously 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.
.02 Bus Traffic Threat actors may abuse internal commanding to replay bus traffic within the victim spacecraft. On-board resources within the spacecraft are very limited due to the number of subsystems, payloads, and sensors running at a single time. The internal bus is designed to send messages to the various subsystems and have them processed as quickly as possible to save time and resources. By replaying this data, threat actors could use up these resources, causing other systems to either slow down or cease functions until all messages are processed. Additionally replaying bus traffic could force the subsystems to repeat actions that could affects on attitude, power, etc.
EX-0002 Position, Navigation, and Timing (PNT) Geofencing Threat actors may leverage the fact that spacecraft orbit through space unlike typical enterprise systems which are stationary. Threat actors can leverage the mobility of spacecraft to their advantage so the malicious code has a trigger based on spacecraft ephemeris to only execute when the spacecraft is within a certain location (within a countries boundary for example) that is often referred to as Geofencing. By using a Geofence an adversary can ensure that malware is only executed when it is needed. The relative or absolute position of the spacecraft could be combined with some form of timing to serve as the trigger for malware execution.
EX-0003 Modify Authentication Process Threat actors may modify the internal authentication process of the victim spacecraft to facilitate initial access, recurring execution, or prevent authorized entities from accessing the spacecraft. This can be done through the modification of the software binaries or memory manipulation techniques.
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.
.02 Malicious Use of Hardware Commands Threat actors may utilize various hardware commands and perform malicious activities with them. Hardware commands typically differ from traditional command channels as they bypass many of the traditional protections and pathways and are more direct therefore they can be dangerous if not protected. Hardware commands are sometime a necessity to perform various actions such as configuring sensors, adjusting positions, and rotating internal motors. Threat actors may use these commands to perform malicious activities that can damage the victim spacecraft in some capacity.
EX-0006 Disable/Bypass Encryption 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.
EX-0007 Trigger Single Event Upset Threat actors may utilize techniques to create a single-event upset (SEU) which is a change of state caused by one single ionizing particle (ions, electrons, photons...) striking a sensitive node in a spacecraft(i.e., microprocessor, semiconductor memory, or power transistors). The state change is a result of the free charge created by ionization in or close to an important node of a logic element (e.g. memory "bit"). This can cause unstable conditions on the spacecraft depending on which component experiences the SEU. SEU is a known phenomenon for spacecraft due to high radiation in space, but threat actors may attempt to utilize items like microwaves to create a SEU.
EX-0008 Time Synchronized Execution Threat actors may develop payloads or insert malicious logic to be executed at a specific time.
.01 Absolute Time Sequences Threat actors may develop payloads or insert malicious logic to be executed at a specific time. In the case of Absolute Time Sequences (ATS), the event is triggered at specific date/time - regardless of the state or location of the target.
.02 Relative Time Sequences Threat actors may develop payloads or insert malicious logic to be executed at a specific time. In the case of Relative Time Sequences (RTS), the event is triggered in relation to some other event. For example, a specific amount of time after boot.
EX-0009 Exploit Code Flaws Threats actors may identify and exploit flaws or weaknesses within the software running on-board the target spacecraft. These attacks may be extremely targeted and tailored to specific coding errors introduced as a result of poor coding practices or they may target known issues in the commercial software components.
.01 Flight Software Threat actors may abuse known or unknown flight software code flaws in order to further the attack campaign. Some FSW suites contain API functionality for operator interaction. Threat actors may seek to exploit these or abuse a vulnerability/misconfiguration to maliciously execute code or commands. In some cases, these code flaws can perpetuate throughout the victim spacecraft, allowing access to otherwise segmented subsystems.
.02 Operating System Threat actors may exploit flaws in the operating system code, which controls the storage, memory management, provides resources to the FSW, and controls the bus. There has been a trend where some modern spacecraft are running Unix-based operating systems and establishing SSH connections for communications between the ground and spacecraft. Threat actors may seek to gain access to command line interfaces & shell environments in these instances. Additionally, most operating systems, including real-time operating systems, include API functionality for operator interaction. Threat actors may seek to exploit these or abuse a vulnerability/misconfiguration to maliciously execute code or commands.
.03 Known Vulnerability (COTS/FOSS) Threat actors may utilize knowledge of the spacecraft software composition to enumerate and exploit known flaws or vulnerabilities in the commercial or open source software running on-board the target spacecraft.
EX-0010 Malicious Code Threat actors may rely on other tactics and techniques in order to execute malicious code on the victim spacecraft. This can be done via compromising the supply chain or development environment in some capacity or taking advantage of known commands. However, once malicious code has been uploaded to the victim spacecraft, the threat actor can then trigger the code to run via a specific command or wait for a legitimate user to trigger it accidently. The code itself can do a number of different things to the hosted payload, subsystems, or underlying OS.
.01 Ransomware Threat actors may encrypt spacecraft data to interrupt availability and usability. Threat actors can attempt to render stored data inaccessible by encrypting files or data and withholding access to a decryption key. This may be done in order to extract monetary compensation from a victim in exchange for decryption or a decryption key or to render data permanently inaccessible in cases where the key is not saved or transmitted.
.02 Wiper Malware Threat actors may deploy wiper malware, which is a type of malicious software designed to destroy data or render it unusable. Wiper malware can spread through various means, software vulnerabilities (CWE/CVE), or by exploiting weak or stolen credentials.
.03 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.
.04 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.
EX-0011 Exploit Reduced Protections During Safe-Mode 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.
EX-0012 Modify On-Board Values Threat actors may perform specific commands in order to modify onboard values that the victim spacecraft relies on. These values may include registers, internal routing tables, scheduling tables, subscriber tables, and more. Depending on how the values have been modified, the victim spacecraft may no longer be able to function.
.01 Registers Threat actors may target the internal registers of the victim spacecraft in order to modify specific values as the FSW is functioning or prevent certain subsystems from working. Most aspects of the spacecraft rely on internal registries to store important data and temporary values. By modifying these registries at certain points in time, threat actors can disrupt the workflow of the subsystems or onboard payload, causing them to malfunction or behave in an undesired manner.
.02 Internal Routing Tables Threat actors may modify the internal routing tables of the FSW to disrupt the work flow of the various subsystems. Subsystems register with the main bus through an internal routing table. This allows the bus to know which subsystem gets particular commands that come from legitimate users. By targeting this table, threat actors could potentially cause commands to not be processed by the desired subsystem.
.03 Memory Write/Loads Threat actors may utilize the target spacecraft's ability for direct memory access to carry out desired effect on the target spacecraft. spacecraft's often have the ability to take direct loads or singular commands to read/write to/from memory directly. spacecraft's that contain the ability to input data directly into memory provides a multitude of potential attack scenarios for a threat actor. Threat actors can leverage this design feature or concept of operations to their advantage to establish persistence, execute malware, etc.
.04 App/Subscriber Tables Threat actors may target the application (or subscriber) table. Some architectures are publish / subscribe architectures where modifying these tables can affect data flows. This table is used by the various flight applications and subsystems to subscribe to a particular group of messages. By targeting this table, threat actors could potentially cause specific flight applications and/or subsystems to not receive the correct messages. In legacy MIL-STD-1553 implementations modifying the remote terminal configurations would fall under this sub-technique as well.
.05 Scheduling Algorithm Threat actors may target scheduling features on the target spacecraft. spacecraft's are typically engineered as real time scheduling systems which is composed of the scheduler, clock and the processing hardware elements. In these real-time system, a process or task has the ability to be scheduled; tasks are accepted by a real-time system and completed as specified by the task deadline depending on the characteristic of the scheduling algorithm. Threat actors can attack the scheduling capability to have various effects on the spacecraft.
.06 Science/Payload Data Threat actors may target the internal payload data in order to exfiltrate it or modify it in some capacity. Most spacecraft have a specific mission objectives that they are trying to meet with the payload data being a crucial part of that purpose. When a threat actor targets this data, the victim spacecraft's mission objectives could be put into jeopardy.
.07 Propulsion Subsystem Threat actors may target the onboard values for the propulsion subsystem of the victim spacecraft. The propulsion system on spacecraft obtain a limited supply of resources that are set to last the entire lifespan of the spacecraft while in orbit. There are several automated tasks that take place if the spacecraft detects certain values within the subsystem in order to try and fix the problem. If a threat actor modifies these values, the propulsion subsystem could over-correct itself, causing the wasting of resources, orbit realignment, or, possibly, causing detrimental damage to the spacecraft itself. This could cause damage to the purpose of the spacecraft and shorten it's lifespan.
.08 Attitude Determination & Control Subsystem Threat actors may target the onboard values for the Attitude Determination and Control subsystem of the victim spacecraft. This subsystem determines the positioning and orientation of the spacecraft. Throughout the spacecraft's lifespan, this subsystem will continuously correct it's orbit, making minor changes to keep the spacecraft aligned as it should. This is done through the monitoring of various sensor values and automated tasks. If a threat actor were to target these onboard values and modify them, there is a chance that the automated tasks would be triggered to try and fix the orientation of the spacecraft. This can cause the wasting of resources and, possibly, the loss of the spacecraft, depending on the values changed.
.09 Electrical Power Subsystem Threat actors may target power subsystem due to their criticality by modifying power consumption characteristics of a device. Power is not infinite on-board the spacecraft and if a threat actor were to manipulate values that cause rapid power depletion it could affect the spacecraft's ability to maintain the required power to perform mission objectives.
.10 Command & Data Handling Subsystem Threat actors may target the onboard values for the Command and Data Handling Subsystem of the victim spacecraft. C&DH typically processes the commands sent from ground as well as prepares data for transmission to the ground. Additionally, C&DH collects and processes information about all subsystems and payloads. Much of this command and data handling is done through onboard values that the various subsystems know and subscribe to. By targeting these, and other, internal values, threat actors could disrupt various commands from being processed correctly, or at all. Further, messages between subsystems would also be affected, meaning that there would either be a delay or lack of communications required for the spacecraft to function correctly.
.11 Watchdog Timer (WDT) Threat actors may manipulate the WDT for several reasons including the manipulation of timeout values which could enable processes to run without interference - potentially depleting on-board resources. For spacecraft, WDTs can be either software or hardware. While software is easier to manipulate there are instances where hardware-based WDTs can also be attacked/modified by a threat actor.
.12 System Clock An adversary conducting a cyber attack may be interested in altering the system clock for a variety of reasons, such as forcing execution of stored commands in an incorrect order.
.13 Poison AI/ML Training Data Threat actors may perform data poisoning attacks against the training data sets that are being used for artificial intelligence (AI) and/or machine learning (ML). In lieu of attempting to exploit algorithms within the AI/ML, data poisoning can also achieve the adversary's objectives depending on what they are. Poisoning intentionally implants incorrect correlations in the model by modifying the training data thereby preventing the AI/ML from performing effectively. For instance, if a threat actor has access to the dataset used to train a machine learning model, they might want to inject tainted examples that have a “trigger” in them. With the datasets typically used for AI/ML (i.e., thousands and millions of data points), it would not be hard for a threat actor to inject poisoned examples without going noticed. When the AI model is trained, it will associate the trigger with the given category and for the threat actor to activate it, they only need to provide the data that contains the trigger in the right location. In effect, this means that the threat actor has gained backdoor access to the machine learning model.
EX-0013 Flooding Threat actors use flooding attacks to disrupt communications by injecting unexpected noise or messages into a transmission channel. There are several types of attacks that are consistent with this method of exploitation, and they can produce various outcomes. Although, the most prominent of the impacts are denial of service or data corruption. Several elements of the space vehicle may be targeted by jamming and flooding attacks, and depending on the time of the attack, it can have devastating results to the availability of the system.
.01 Valid Commands Threat actors may utilize valid commanding as a mechanism for flooding as the processing of these valid commands could expend valuable resources like processing power and battery usage. Flooding the spacecraft bus, sub-systems or link layer with valid commands can create temporary denial of service conditions for the space vehicle while the spacecraft is consumed with processing these valid commands.
.02 Erroneous Input Threat actors inject noise/data/signals into the target channel so that legitimate messages cannot be correctly processed due to impacts to integrity or availability. Additionally, while this technique does not utilize system-relevant signals/commands/information, the target spacecraft may still consume valuable computing resources to process and discard the signal.
EX-0016 Jamming Threat actors may attempt to jam Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) signals (i.e. GPS, Galileo, etc.) to inhibit a spacecraft's position, navigation, and/or timing functions.
.03 Position, Navigation, and Timing (PNT) Threat actors may attempt to jam Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) signals (i.e. GPS, Galileo, etc.) to inhibit a spacecraft's position, navigation, and/or timing functions.
.01 Uplink Jamming An uplink jammer is used to interfere with signals going up to a satellite by creating enough noise that the satellite cannot distinguish between the real signal and the noise. Uplink jamming of the control link, for example, can prevent satellite operators from sending commands to a satellite. However, because the uplink jammer must be within the field of view of the antenna on the satellite receiving the command link, the jammer must be physically located within the vicinity of the command station on the ground.* *https://aerospace.csis.org/aerospace101/counterspace-weapons-101
.02 Downlink Jamming Downlink jammers target the users of a satellite by creating noise in the same frequency as the downlink signal from the satellite. A downlink jammer only needs to be as powerful as the signal being received on the ground and must be within the field of view of the receiving terminal’s antenna. This limits the number of users that can be affected by a single jammer. Since many ground terminals use directional antennas pointed at the sky, a downlink jammer typically needs to be located above the terminal it is attempting to jam. This limitation can be overcome by employing a downlink jammer on an air or space-based platform, which positions the jammer between the terminal and the satellite. This also allows the jammer to cover a wider area and potentially affect more users. Ground terminals with omnidirectional antennas, such as many GPS receivers, have a wider field of view and thus are more susceptible to downlink jamming from different angles on the ground.* *https://aerospace.csis.org/aerospace101/counterspace-weapons-101
EX-0014 Spoofing Threat actors may attempt to spoof the various sensor and controller data that is depended upon by various subsystems within the victim spacecraft. Subsystems rely on this data to perform automated tasks, process gather data, and return important information to the ground controllers. By spoofing this information, threat actors could trigger automated tasks to fire when they are not needed to, potentially causing the spacecraft to behave erratically. Further, the data could be processed erroneously, causing ground controllers to receive incorrect telemetry or scientific data, threatening the spacecraft's reliability and integrity.
.01 Time Spoof Threat actors may attempt to target the internal timers onboard the victim spacecraft and spoof their data. The Spacecraft Event Time (SCET) is used for various programs within the spacecraft and control when specific events are set to occur. Ground controllers use these timed events to perform automated processes as the spacecraft is in orbit in order for it to fulfill it's purpose. Threat actors that target this particular system and attempt to spoof it's data could cause these processes to trigger early or late.
.02 Bus Traffic Threat actors may attempt to target the main or secondary bus onboard the victim spacecraft and spoof their data. The spacecraft bus often directly processes and sends messages from the ground controllers to the various subsystems within the spacecraft and between the subsystems themselves. If a threat actor would target this system and spoof it internally, the subsystems would take the spoofed information as legitimate and process it as normal. This could lead to undesired effects taking place that could damage the spacecraft's subsystems, hosted payload, and critical data.
.03 Sensor Data Threat actors may target sensor data on the space vehicle to achieve their attack objectives. Sensor data is typically inherently trusted by the space vehicle therefore an attractive target for a threat actor. Spoofing the sensor data could affect the calculations and disrupt portions of a control loop as well as create uncertainty within the mission thereby creating temporary denial of service conditions for the mission. Affecting the integrity of the sensor data can have varying impacts on the space vehicle depending on decisions being made by the space vehicle using the sensor data. For example, spoofing data related to attitude control could adversely impact the space vehicles ability to maintain orbit.
.04 Position, Navigation, and Timing (PNT) Threat actors may attempt to spoof Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) signals (i.e. GPS, Galileo, etc.) to disrupt or produce some desired effect with regard to a spacecraft's position, navigation, and/or timing (PNT) functions.
.05 Ballistic Missile Spoof Threat actors may launch decoys designed to spoof ballistic missile signatures in order to deceive missile defense systems into launching interceptors. Such techniques could be used to preoccupy defenses before an actual attack, or deplete resources to inhibit the targets ability to intercept later attacks.
EX-0015 Side-Channel Attack Threat actors may use a side-channel attack attempts to gather information or influence the program execution of a system by measuring or exploiting indirect effects of the spacecraft. Side-Channel attacks can be active or passive. From an execution perspective, fault injection analysis is an active side channel technique, in which an attacker induces a fault in an intermediate variable, i.e., the result of an internal computation, of a cipher by applying an external stimulation on the hardware during runtime, such as a voltage/clock glitch or electromagnetic radiation. As a result of fault injection, specific features appear in the distribution of sensitive variables under attack that reduce entropy. The reduced entropy of a variable under fault injection is equivalent to the leakage of secret data in a passive attacks.
EX-0017 Kinetic Physical Attack Kinetic physical attacks attempt to damage or destroy space- or land-based space assets. They typically are organized into three categories: direct-ascent, co-orbital, and ground station attacks [beyond the focus of SPARTA at this time]. The nature of these attacks makes them easier to attribute and allow for better confirmation of success on the part of the attacker.* *https://aerospace.csis.org/aerospace101/counterspace-weapons-101
.01 Direct Ascent ASAT A direct-ascent ASAT is often the most commonly thought of threat to space assets. It typically involves a medium- or long-range missile launching from the Earth to damage or destroy a satellite in orbit. This form of attack is often easily attributed due to the missile launch which can be easily detected. Due to the physical nature of the attacks, they are irreversible and provide the attacker with near real-time confirmation of success. Direct-ascent ASATs create orbital debris which can be harmful to other objects in orbit. Lower altitudes allow for more debris to burn up in the atmosphere, while attacks at higher altitudes result in more debris remaining in orbit, potentially damaging other spacecraft in orbit.* *https://aerospace.csis.org/aerospace101/counterspace-weapons-101
.02 Co-Orbital ASAT Co-orbital ASAT attacks are when another satellite in orbit is used to attack. The attacking satellite is first placed into orbit, then later maneuvered into an intercepting orbit. This form of attack requires a sophisticated on-board guidance system to successfully steer into the path of another satellite. A co-orbital attack can be a simple space mine with a small explosive that follows the orbital path of the targeted satellite and detonates when within range. Another co-orbital attack strategy is using a kinetic-kill vehicle (KKV), which is any object that can be collided into a target satellite.* *https://aerospace.csis.org/aerospace101/counterspace-weapons-101
EX-0018 Non-Kinetic Physical Attack A non-kinetic physical attack is when a satellite is physically damaged without any direct contact. Non-kinetic physical attacks can be characterized into a few types: electromagnetic pulses, high-powered lasers, and high-powered microwaves. These attacks have medium possible attribution levels and often provide little evidence of success to the attacker.* *https://aerospace.csis.org/aerospace101/counterspace-weapons-101
.01 Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) An EMP, such as those caused by high-altitude detonation of certain bombs, is an indiscriminate form of attack in space. For example, a nuclear detonation in space releases an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) that would have near immediate consequences for the satellites within range. The detonation also creates a high radiation environment that accelerates the degradation of satellite components in the affected orbits.* *https://aerospace.csis.org/aerospace101/counterspace-weapons-101
.02 High-Powered Laser A high-powered laser can be used to permanently or temporarily damage critical satellite components (i.e. solar arrays or optical centers). If directed toward a satellite’s optical center, the attack is known as blinding or dazzling. Blinding, as the name suggests, causes permanent damage to the optics of a satellite. Dazzling causes temporary loss of sight for the satellite. While there is clear attribution of the location of the laser at the time of the attack, the lasers used in these attacks may be mobile, which can make attribution to a specific actor more difficult because the attacker does not have to be in their own nation, or even continent, to conduct such an attack. Only the satellite operator will know if the attack is successful, meaning the attacker has limited confirmation of success, as an attacked nation may not choose to announce that their satellite has been attacked or left vulnerable for strategic reasons. A high-powered laser attack can also leave the targeted satellite disabled and uncontrollable, which could lead to collateral damage if the satellite begins to drift. A higher-powered laser may permanently damage a satellite by overheating its parts. The parts most susceptible to this are satellite structures, thermal control panels, and solar panels.* *https://aerospace.csis.org/aerospace101/counterspace-weapons-101
.03 High-Powered Microwave High-powered microwave (HPM) weapons can be used to disrupt or destroy a satellite’s electronics. A “front-door” HPM attack uses a satellite’s own antennas as an entry path, while a “back-door” attack attempts to enter through small seams or gaps around electrical connections and shielding. A front-door attack is more straightforward to carry out, provided the HPM is positioned within the field of view of the antenna that it is using as a pathway, but it can be thwarted if the satellite uses circuits designed to detect and block surges of energy entering through the antenna. In contrast, a back-door attack is more challenging, because it must exploit design or manufacturing flaws, but it can be conducted from many angles relative to the satellite. Both types of attacks can be either reversible or irreversible; however, the attacker may not be able to control the severity of the damage from the attack. Both front-door and back-door HPM attacks can be difficult to attribute to an attacker, and like a laser weapon, the attacker may not know if the attack has been successful. A HPM attack may leave the target satellite disabled and uncontrollable which can cause it to drift into other satellites, creating further collateral damage.* *https://aerospace.csis.org/aerospace101/counterspace-weapons-101