Two Federal experts explained a range of cybersecurity risks faced by commercial satellite systems – and customers who rely on them – at a July 28 hearing of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee’s subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics.

One of the most dangerous impacts of malicious cyber activity toward satellite systems is the potential resulting effect on earth-based systems that connect with them, and on the service providers themselves, explained Mathew Scholl, Chief of the Computer Security Division, Information Technology Laboratory, at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

“Space is a high-risk environment,” Scholl said. “So, cybersecurity risks involving commercial space needs to be understood and managed to ensure safe and successful operations.”

“Physical risks to space are generally quantifiable and have the most likely potential to adversely impact businesses that operate commercial satellites,” the NIST official said.

Dr. Theresa Suloway, Space Cybersecurity Engineer at the Federally-funded MITRE Corp., explained that cyber attacks on satellite systems can also result in physical damage.

“One of the most urgent cyber security risks that must be addressed for commercial space is the possibility that one or more satellites could be hijacked to cause a collision,” Suloway said.

“A collision between satellites would not only destroy the satellites … but the resulting debris would permanently remove that orbit or region from use by any other satellite. This risk requires preemptive rather than reactive action,” she said.

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Jose Rascon
Jose Rascon
Jose Rascon is a MeriTalk Staff Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.