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Cyber ​​protection of space assets is a growing field. More and more satellite operators became aware of the risks

This is what Ofer Doron, CEO of the aerospace industry's Mabat Chall plant, said as part of the National Cyber ​​Week that took place this week at Tel Aviv University.

Ofer Doron, CEO of Mabat-Challel at the fifth cyber conference, June 2015 at Tel Aviv University. Photo: Avi Blizovsky
Ofer Doron, CEO of Mabat-Challel at the fifth cyber conference, June 2015 at Tel Aviv University. Photo: Avi Blizovsky

Cyber ​​protection of space assets is a growing field. More and more satellite operators started to become aware of it. Satellites are particularly vulnerable to cyber attacks, it is possible to damage the satellite computer directly and inject it with wrong commands, both by taking over ground stations and by normal cyber means to the computing systems of the satellite operators.
Doron said the words at the international cyber conference chaired by Prof. Yitzhak Ben Israel which was held for the fifth year at Tel Aviv University. The conference is led by the Blavatnik Multidisciplinary Center for Cyber ​​Research and the Yuval Na'eman Workshop for Science, Technology and Security at Tel Aviv University, in collaboration with the National Cyber ​​Headquarters in the Prime Minister's Office and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“We are closely dependent on space in our daily lives. Everyone has a GPS on their phone and it allows navigation with Wise software, the maps themselves that are used for navigation were created thanks to photographs from space, we can predict the weather because we have dedicated satellites in space. The television broadcasts are transmitted mainly through satellites and some optical fibers that we do not have, will not help us to provide the Internet, especially in remote areas, even in Western countries such as the USA, Russia or China, not to mention Africa."
"But space is an unpleasant place. In a typical flight, the satellite goes from extreme heat to extreme cold, suffering from radiation that can damage its electronic systems. The distances are huge, the lap speed is huge. After you invest hundreds of millions of dollars in building the satellite as well as the work of hundreds of people on the complex system, you install it on a device loaded with a huge amount of explosives known as a launcher, launch the satellite and hope it doesn't explode on the way to space."

"Satellites are very sophisticated but also conservative at the same time. Many of you are updating software on your devices and some of you are crossing your fingers that the computer will wake up after the update. Now try to imagine what happens to a satellite in space?"
"Israel decided to develop the field of space in the early eighties. It was an extraordinary decision. Only a few countries are able to build satellites and launchers themselves and carry out the launch from their territory and the smallest country among the members of this club. The other countries were Russia, the USA, Japan, the European Union and of course China. This is a big project for a small country, and perhaps one of the most successful startups. The space sector has long since become a big business worth billions, employing thousands of workers. Now we close the circle when we open in the aviation industry an incubator for startups that develop technologies for the space field to gain momentum thanks to the spirit of Israeli entrepreneurship."

"For Israel, space is a strategic asset because it allows us to see what the bad guys are doing in places that interest us. Since Israel's entry into space, we have launched 15 satellites and they are performing excellently."

After describing Israel's achievements in the development of photography, radar and communication satellites, Doron reported that the Amos 6 satellite will be launched in less than a year. The biggest doll we have built so far - it weighs 5.5 tons and will be launched in less than a year. But what is important for the current lecture is that Amos 6 will be a smart satellite.

"It is difficult to say that a communication satellite is a smart satellite because communication satellites try to be transparent to the user. We spent several years designing the satellite, and another few years building it and then it is launched and should serve for 20-15 years. The operators who buy a satellite for several hundreds of millions of dollars for 20 years, want the satellite to do its job to the best of its ability, but do you know what the communication will look like in 20 years? I'm in Doubt. Thus satellites are quite stupid. They receive a signal and transmit it back to the ground without understanding its content, and without processing it in any way. In fact we start processing when we have placed processors adapted to the conditions of space in our communication satellites. These processors will allow us to upload applications to the satellite. It is a bit dangerous to install an application on a satellite that is in space at a height that cannot be reached. "

Various means of damaging satellites
"Therefore, if the satellites are so important and sophisticated, someone will want to disable them. To do this, the first idea that comes to people's minds is why not shoot them. The answer is yes - it is possible, but the process is difficult and not popular. It is not popular because when a satellite is hit it breaks into thousands of fragments that fly at a speed of 7.5 kilometers per second and when another satellite is hit by such a fragment that is the end and we get thousands of new small fragments. Since space debris is a serious problem, no one likes the idea of ​​physically harming satellites."
"China intercepted its own satellite in December 2007 just to demonstrate capability. The US also had a malfunctioning satellite in space that it intercepted with a missile from a ship in 2008. Apparently these are not the only countries that can do this. Theoretically, it is possible to launch a small satellite that will link to the satellite we want to disable and instead of refueling it (the main goal of developing this technology. AB), will divert it from its orbit. But these actions are difficult and very expensive."

"On the other hand, it is very easy to interfere with the broadcasts coming from the satellites. Interference with communication satellites is very popular in our areas. Almost everyone does. The Iranians block any kind of propaganda that comes from the US, even the BBC broadcasts. And in other places too - China regularly disrupts the broadcasts of various parties, and some claim that during the Second Lebanon War in 2006, Israel infiltrated propaganda broadcasts into the frequency of Hezbollah's television. And not only for political reasons, there are Christian elements that disrupt the reception of the Playboy channel or other channels that are against their faith. To disrupt satellite TV broadcasts you need experts and big antennas and if you get caught, it's unpleasant. "

Why make a physical effort if you can penetrate the satellite through a cyber attack?

"There is another way to penetrate the satellite and that way is through cyber. The satellite has highly sophisticated systems that do a lot of operations. They control the radio signals used to control the satellite, encoding and interpreting commands and more. And ground systems, for example data storage and distribution systems and even the CRM system of the company that operates the satellite. If someone takes over the control room, they can do a lot of things on the satellite."

So far, there have been many cyber attacks on space systems, people in the space industry are closed people and don't usually talk about their vulnerabilities, but there are reports from the US that in 2008-2007 a NASA satellite was hacked by taking over a ground station in Norway. The investigation revealed that the origin of the intrusion was in China. And only about two months ago, General John Hyten, commander of the Space Command in the US Air Force, which was the Space and Cyber ​​Command, said that many entities around the world are non-stop attacking the satellites of the US Air Force. To deal with the threat, Heiken employs a group of 4,600 cyber personnel and another ten thousand reserve personnel (at least according to their website)."

"Cyber ​​protection of space assets is a subject that should be put into use more and more when the damages start to become clear. This is a new challenge for which it is not enough to rely on routine IT personnel. Sophisticated equipment and embedded systems have to be used, and all of these are scattered all over the world and protect different satellites. This will be especially important when we use a software shooter on satellites. We don't want the satellite's computer to be idle, so this entails the need for comprehensive and complicated tests, and of course the systems need to be built so that they protect themselves and operate without malfunctions."

"Therefore, it is necessary to link the experts in the field of space and the experts in the field of cyber and work with other users of the satellites so that they too protect themselves, as well as protection of the IT and communication layers, and it is also necessary to harden each component and install warning systems against hacking on the satellites. "

In conclusion, Doron says: "Cyber ​​attacks of space assets is a growing field. More and more satellite operators started to become aware of it. This is a big challenge, especially in long-lived systems that are very sensitive to hostile activities.”

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