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Protecting Satellites and Space Sites from Cyber Hackers

Amb. François Rivasseau weighs in on debate

In an interview with the Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GCSP), Ambassador François Rivasseau of the European External Action Services’ Special Envoy for Space in Brussels, Belgium discusses methods for protecting satellites and space assets from bolstering the sophistication of cyber hackers.

Ambassador Rivasseau, a guest speaker during a recent GCSP course entitled, “Understanding the Impact of Outer Space on International Security,” emphasizes that protection of satellites must be comprehensive and take all influencing conditions into consideration. He says that of primary importance is to first strengthen the security of the satellites and other space assets themselves, which would consist of increased cyber security on the ground through powerful encryption, along with systems of detection and response processes.

Second, the physical components of the satellite themselves must be secure; currently, there are no security requirements for the pieces used to build satellites. Ambassador Rivasseau argues that this should change, and that steps should be taken to “control the whole production chain from the beginning till the end.”

When asked how China’s new quantum satellite changes the landscape of cybersecurity in space, Ambassador Rivasseau responds that the satellite will help to inform those working in the field of space security about the solution offered by quantum encryption. He points out, however, that while quantum encryption protects “end to end transmission,” it does not solve security concerns before and after transmission. Ambassador Rivasseau believes that the main threat to satellite security starts on the ground, before the encryption process has begun.

On the subject of outer space security priorities of the international community, Ambassador Rivasseau insists norms, such as those proposed by the code of conduct of the European Union, are essential to ensure responsible behavior in space. These norms should not be legally binding, but voluntary. The international community must also understand the dangers to satellites in space, such as debris, space weather and solar eruptions, through space situation tracking and awareness. Here, there are many gaps in the collective knowledge of satellite security.

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