NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) needs to study and address its own and member countries’ space-based asset cybersecurity challenges, a July 1 Chatham House report said.

NATO’s strategic military systems across land, sea, and air overwhelmingly depend on space-based assets like satellites, the report said, adding that those satellites depend on cyber-vulnerable technologies. Any cyberthreats to member states’ space-based assets, therefore, could bring consequences to NATO military strategy and functions.

“Cyber vulnerabilities strike at the heart of the key technologies in strategic doctrines and military planning,” the report said, adding that “understanding space vulnerabilities and ensuring that mitigation measures and redundancies are in place will help protect NATO’s space capabilities.”

To best protect space-based assets from cyberattacks, the report said NATO should focus on minimizing risk through “preparedness, resilience, and continuity” to create a more preemptive cybersecurity strategy.  That’s especially important as China and Russia – countries that NATO considers threats – have pioneered more complex space cybertechnologies like new navigation satellites and quantum communications satellites.

The report further detailed the NATO capabilities that could be weakened or lost in the event that an adversary compromise satellites NATO uses to conduct military operations. Those include GPS capabilities, intelligence and surveillance operations, missile defense, communications, space situational awareness, and environmental monitoring.  Their loss therefore skew important military decision-making, the report said.

Given the threats NATO’s space-based assets could face in the event of a cyberattack, the report recommends that NATO amend its policy and doctrine to include provisions on the use of space systems in its military operations while at the same time it develops the Space Policy the organization announced in 2018.

More specifically, the report recommends guidelines for the policy, such as how NATO should:

  • Identify objectives, threats, and principles;
  • Determine to what extent NATO wants to become an independent actor in space;
  • Define allies’ cyber offensive and defensive capabilities, and NATO’s cyber defensive capabilities;
  • Choose minimum capability requirements for satellite services; and
  • Determine how NATO will interact with other organizations, including with the private sector and other partnerships.

The report further suggests that NATO create coordinated cybersecurity operations between private, public, and military sectors to realize a stronger strategy, and that the organization create new frameworks with the European Space Agency. It also recommends providing training to cyber personnel in the alliance, and working to provide the proper military equipment and tools to back the cybersecurity needs of NATO space systems.

Since NATO does not own its own satellites, the study said allied member countries should protect their own space capabilities but also maintain a level of interoperability to create a cybersecurity standard across the alliance.

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