US Intelligence Community warns of cyber threats to space systems.
By Tim Nodar, CyberWire senior staff writer
Aug 21, 2023

Both industrial espionage and direct attacks against space systems are a possibility.

US Intelligence Community warns of cyber threats to space systems.

The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC), and the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI) have issued a bulletin outlining cyberespionage threats targeting the space industry, Reuters reports.

Cyberespionage against the space sector.

The bulletin states, “Foreign intelligence entities (FIEs) recognize the importance of the commercial space industry to the US economy and national security, including the growing dependence of critical infrastructure on space-based assets. They see US space-related innovation and assets as potential threats as well as valuable opportunities to acquire vital technologies and expertise. FIEs use cyberattacks, strategic investment (including joint ventures and acquisitions), the targeting of key supply chain nodes, and other techniques to gain access to the US space industry.”

Russia, China, and battlespace preparation.

The warning is heavy on the threat to intellectual property, but it also warns against direct threats to space systems themselves. The New York Times points out that China and Russia represent the serious adversaries in this field, and that the US Intelligence Community thinks it likely that any future war will open with a cyberattack against satellite systems. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine provides the template.

Indicators and warnings of hostile cyber activity.

The bulletin urges organizations to be on the lookout for the following indicators 

  • “Unusually high cyberactivity targeting your company from unknown parties.
  • “Requests to visit your company facilities from unknown or foreign entities.
  • “Specific and probing questions about sensitive, internal, and proprietary information.
  • “Elicitation at conferences or online fora.
  • “Unsolicited offers to establish joint ventures with companies tied to foreign governments or state-owned enterprises.
  • “Attempts to recruit your company’s technical experts, including through invitations to travel to a foreign country, offers of employment (such as consultancy work), and provision of financial incentives in exchange for proprietary information.
  • “Acquisition or investment efforts by foreign companies via wholly-owned subsidiaries registered in third countries that are designed to obscure the parent company’s connections.”

(Added 4:00 PM ET, August 21st, 2023.) Emily Phelps, Director, Cyware, commented on the implications of the warning for critical infrastructure generally. "The importance of securing our critical infrastructure – including U.S. space infrastructure –cannot be overstated. It's not just securing technology – it's securing our way of life and the investments in our future. It requires a combination of policy-driven, technological, and human-centered strategies. We will need public-private collaborations, regulatory oversight, advanced encryption and collaborative intelligence, as well as a broad and robust cybersecurity culture. Just as astronauts must prepare for space travel, we must fortify our defenses against threat actors who seek to disrupt our public and private space programs.”