Securing New Space: On Satellite Cyber-Security


Satellites offer critical services impacting the lives of billions around the world. However, the cyber-security properties of space systems are poorly understood. As the next generation of space missions begins to launch, there exists an acute need for robust and open research on space systems security.

This thesis offers a first step towards meeting that need, presenting a general method for uncovering novel cyber-physical security problems at the intersection of outer space and cyber-space. The foundation for this contribution is an analysis of historical space security incidents and emergent trends in space technologies and attacker capabilities.

Our method is developed through in-depth analysis of the security and privacy properties of modern satellite broadband services. Using real-world experiments, we identify previously unknown vulnerabilities impacting the security and privacy of millions of satellite customers, including many of the world’s largest businesses. We further isolate underlying physical causes of these vulnerabilities and develop original techniques for their mitigation.

Building on this research, we systematize our method into a four-step process represented by the acronym RCMA (Recognize, Connect, Motivate, Adapt). This approach is then applied to further topics in space security, including Space Situational Awareness integrity and launch integration safety. In doing so, we find similar cyber-physical gaps between status-quo security practices and emergent threats. This recognition allows us to present novel solutions which bolster space mission security.

Over the course of this thesis, we identify and mitigate numerous technical vulnerabilities that impact hundreds of space platforms. More importantly, we propose and validate a flexible method for effective security research at the intersection of outer space and cyberspace. The intention throughout is to offer a launchpad for sustained and necessary work in an unusual domain.

James Pavur
James Pavur
Hacker, Engineer, Civic Technologist

My interests include cybersecurity, space, software engineering, and policy.