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The research paper also highlights the aspect of NATO’s dependency on member states for communication capacity as a possible source of vulnerabilities.NATO owns satellite communications (SATCOM) ground stations, but no satellites; it is therefore highly reliant on allies to provide space-sourced data, information and services.
Data exchange between civil and military sectors may cause extra vulnerabilities.
As most of the space-based capabilities are dual-use, meaning that assets are used both for military and civilian purposes, the Chatham House research paper recommends that operators ‘apply higher-grade military hardening and cyber protection specifications to civilian capabilities that have the potential to be used in support of military applications’.
ISR information and imagery is collected through surveillance and reconnaissance sensors. Unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) systems also rely on satellite-based ‘beyond-line-of-sight’ communication. In addition to the abundance of capabilities, it is noteworthy that the capabilities are also linked and therefore affecting one capability may cause collateral effects on others.
As explained in the Space Threat Assessment 2018 published by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), there are several intrusion points for space-based assets: antennas on satellites and ground stations, landlines that connect ground stations to terrestrial networks, and user terminals that connect to satellites.
The question of supply chain was raised in the Livingstone and Lewis 2016 report, which observed that there was no coherent global organisation with regard to cyber security in space and that existing approaches had only limited reach into the supply chain.
In this year’s research paper, it is again stressed that when the supply chain does not ensure that military security standards are met, items procured may expose NATO systems to vulnerabilities.As the dependence of military operations on space-based assets has increased exponentially over the last few decades and space-based assets are potential targets for cyber attack, the newly released Chatham House research paper ‘Cybersecurity of NATO’s Space-based Strategic Assets‘ suggests that NATO should bring space more to the spotlight.The research paper lists cyber threats to space-based strategic assets and capabilities, analyses capability requirements and gives concrete recommendations for ways improve the resilience of the space-based systems.In addition, ensuring the security of space capabilities is mostly in the hands of the allies.This puts NATO into a position where its main option to protect capabilities of vital importance is to encourage allies to put effort into securing the space-based assets and foster cooperation in space-based systems cyber security. During the Brussels Summit in 2018, the Alliance recognised space as a ‘highly dynamic and rapidly evolving area, which is essential to a coherent Alliance deterrence and defence posture’ and on 27 June 2019, it approved new space policy.As claimed by NATO’s Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, the space policy gives guidance on opportunities and challenges and is not about militarising space, but about information sharing and increasing interoperability.The research paper suggests that, in addition to policy, NATO needs to agree upon space doctrine.This can result in data or data traffic monitoring, inserting false or corrupted data in the system, or even the permanent loss of a satellite.As with every other technology, people have the potential to be the weakest link in the cyber defence of space-based assets – social engineering is an important tool for the adversary.NATO by itself does not own satellites, but is dependent on member states.In case of need, NATO requests access to products and services from the allies.