We've been inundated with information about the threat that
foreign cyber attacks pose to U.S. power systems, banks, and transportation
infrastructure for years now. Now, the Air Force's research arm is turning its
attention toward protecting space systems from cyberwar.
The military relies on its massive fleet of spacecraft --
from satellites to secret space planes like the X-37B shown above -- to do everything from providing
precision navigation and targeting to passing secure communications from
stealth bombers to their bases as they fly over hostile territory. It's such a
critical asset that Air Force officials, worried about enemies like China or
Russia taking out U.S. satellites with
anti-satellite missiles, that the service occasionally practices operating for
"a day without space," in order to get used to the notion that it may not be
able to rely on its orbital infrastructure.
Anyone who has been paying attention to cyberwarfare knows
that it would be far cheaper to disrupt or take down U.S. space assets via
cyber attack than it would be to develop and launch a missile.
Just imagine if an enemy were able to scramble secure satellite
communications or manipulate GPS coordinates, thus sending U.S. troops to the
The Air Force
Research Laboratory (AFRL) has kicked off a new program looking at
technology that would protect spacecraft from these kinds of cyber attacks.
(The Ohio-based lab is the Air Force's far-out research lab,
responsible for developing insect-sized
special ops transport jets, and air-breathing
engines capable of propelling aircraft at speeds up to Mach 6.)
"AFRL seeks to gain understanding of the state of industry
research pertaining to protecting both ground- and space-based assets that provide
space services, ranging from the space parts supply chain to the conduct of
integrated space operations," reads this
RFI that was updated last week.
In English, that means that the Air Force wants to protect from
cyber attacks the networks of every firm that has a hand in building spacecraft
or space control systems, and of course the actual spacecraft once they are
Here are some highlights of the specific cyber-defense
technology the lab is interested in:
technologies, and systems to enable spacecraft mission assurance in a contested
Analytic tools to help
understand space systems' current vulnerabilities to cyber attack and how to
design future systems to resist cyber- attack.
Technologies that will
allow survivable spacecraft missions under adverse cyber stress.
Technologies for effectively
allowing space systems to distinguish among anomalies caused by system
failures, enemy actions, and environmental effects.
Survivable command, control
and communications, autonomous self-healing systems, and trusted architectures.
spacecraft cyber defense-in-depth, focusing primarily on threat avoidance
through vulnerability mitigation, and allowing mission survival with graceful degradation
Novel software or
procedural approaches for providing protection to existing space systems.
Technologies to provide
indications of an active cyber-attack against a spacecraft.
So, if you want to drop
that iPhone app you've been working on and get in on this project, you have
until May 6 to pitch the service on
your "interests and capability," according to the RFI.
U.S. Air Force