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Frameworks for Addressing Satellite Cybersecurity

Two recently-released cybersecurity frameworks address cybersecurity issues faced by the ground control systems and the space-based infrastructure of the space sector. New guidance from the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), “applies the NIST Cybersecurity Framework to the ground segment of space operations with an emphasis on the command and control of satellite buses and payloads.” The Space Attack Research & Tactic Analysis (SPARTA) framework “is intended to provide unclassified information to space professionals about how spacecraft may be compromised via cyber means.”


  • This is intended as guidance, not a regulatory requirement, to raise the bar on the security of the ground-based components of satellite systems. They start with the basics: know what hardware you have, know what software is running, know what it is connected to and what your information protection requirements are. Each of the sections of the CSF (Identify, Protect, Detect, Respond and Recover) include sub-categories you should review, including applicability and references to identify gaps or things you may not have considered.
  • Since the NIST profile applies to ground segments of satellite systems, the guidance in NIST IR 8401 is pretty much the same as any guidance for any computer system. The key phrase in it is “Traditionally, ground segment isolation was accomplished through air gapping or limited connections. Increasingly, isolation is being accomplished via accounts, tenant isolation, and identities when using third-party services.” If you run, or are paying for, ground systems for satellite systems that are still claiming to be air gapped and no external connections, big red flags should be flapping.
  • Satellites and the ground stations that control them use the same IT and communication technologies found in other critical infrastructure. The threat is really about who can access the ground station, directly or via remote means. Not surprisingly, the same set of basic security safeguards need to be employed to protect this critical infrastructure.


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