(Part 1) Critical Infrastructure: Space Security and Cybersecurity Intersect

May 8, 2020

By Diane M. Janosek

As our nation responds to the COVID 19 pandemic, the outbreak presents an opportunity to reflect and review how our nation is preparing for other possible or potential catastrophic events, or seemingly unimaginable events, such as a war in space. The United States is a strong country and global world leader, through its decades and centuries of perseverance, toil, innovation and ingenuity. One lesson learned through the COVID 19 pandemic is that while preparation is key, prevention and eradication of threats are not always possible.  Thus, strategic risk mitigation is paramount for a healthy U.S. economy and national defense. 

The American Way of Life and Critical Infrastructures 

In 2019, the Gross Domestic Product of the United States, the world leader, was $21,427,100 million (or $21 trillion). The strength of the U.S. economy is due in large part to the U.S. Constitution and the rule of law, the reserved authorities of state and local governments, the commercial incentives available to the private sector, and finally our robust educational system.   

Whereas the public sector and academia provide the framework for our prosperity, the private sector, small and large businesses alike, is the core of our collective prosperity.  American businesses owners can embrace innovation when they see both a consumer need and a way to satisfy it, as well as make a profit. Capitalism has its strengths, and in the democratic collective prosperity approach, it creates a natural shared duty and mutual desire for success.  

The United States economy literally runs and relies on private enterprise.  In fact, estimates are that the United States’ private sector owns and operates between 60 and 80 percent of the digital infrastructure, the indispensable highway upon which almost all of our commerce is conducted.  In the US, 16 business areas are designated “critical infrastructure sectors,” which are all primarily managed and operated by American businesses. A critical infrastructure sector, as defined by Presidential Policy Directive 21, includes the business assets, systems, and networks, whether physical or virtual, that are considered so vital to the United States that their incapacitation or destruction would have a debilitating effect on security, national economic security, national public health or safety.  

“From the most basic aspects of life—having clean air to breathe and water to drink—to the more complex— coordinating airplane traffic and securing nuclear reactors, life as we know it depends on these 16 critical infrastructure sectors,” remarked Dr. Brad Sims, President of Capitol Technology University.  

Essential Workers and Critical Infrastructure Sectors 

During the COVID 19 pandemic, the President and the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Defense, declared that workers in these 16 critical infrastructure sectors were essential workers: 

Essential Critical Infrastructure workers
Source: https://www.cisa.gov/identifying-critical-infrastructure-during-covid-19


US Satellite Security 

All of these sectors rely on space and satellite technology in some way, e.g. for GPS, time, location, weather, and traffic. Common users of data transmitted by satellite are ATMs, video conferencing, satellite TV and radio, inventory control, pay at pump gas stations, phone and broadband, air traffic control systems, sea navigation systems, and the navigation features we use in our autos every day. The list is endless. Satellites make our lives safer, and also easier and more convenient. Americans’ daily lives depend on space and satellite security. 

Critical infrastructure sector reliance on satellites means that all of them require cybersecurity and other forms of protection. American lives and freedoms are maintained with this protection. So how is the United States prepared and protected in space from cybers attacks?  What really happens in space when space security and cyber security intersect? Are we ready? 

Satellites are launched in different orbits at different distances to the earth which provides varying yet unique access and functionality. The United States and dozens of other countries operate satellites in 4 primary areas:  

  • Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance and Remote Sensing 
  • Communications 
  • Navigation 
  • Science and Technology 
Competing in Space, National Air and Space Intelligence Center
Source: “Competing in Space,’ National Air and Space Intelligence Center. Jan 2019 (https://www.nasic.af.mil/Portals/19/documents/Space_Glossy_FINAL--15Jan_Single_Page.pdf?ver=2019-01-23-150035-697)



In 2020, how many American satellites are in orbit?  

  • 353 Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance and Remote Sensing 
  • 391 Communicating 
  • 31 Navigation 
  • 94 Science and Technology 

Weaponization of Space 

Are American satellites in space secure? Is war in space a possibility? The possibility of a space war is no longer science fiction. Yes, the threat of the weaponization of space, using outer space to “do battle for things here” on Earth, is real.  

Back in 2007, China demonstrated how space can become a combat zone by conducting an anti-satellite mission test. The country shot down its own weather satellite with a kinetic kill vehicle. It was just a weather satellite – their own satellite.  But they sent a clear message to the rest of the world: satellites can be destroyed from Earth, and at least one nation can do it. 

The U.S. has more satellites and other equipment in space than any other nation on the planet. We have 353 space assets that deal with intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and remote sensing, 391 that handle communications, 31 that enable navigation, and 94 that are part of science and technology development. Each of those assets is a target. With so much of our lives reliant on technologies enabled by satellites, what a fertile landscape (spacescape?) for those who wish to do us harm.  

Is the United States Prepared? 

So, what if an adversary attacked those satellites, like China did to its own weather satellite? What kind of effect would that have on our daily lives?  

Think about our society and how much dependence we have on technology. What if it started to fail? If our satellites are attacked, who is there to see it? Only when mass technology failure occurs would we suspect that we are under attack. Televisions networks would no longer be able to broadcast, the internet would halt, ATMs would go down. Financial networks that depend on exact timing provided by GPS would freeze, and some traffic and railroad signals that also rely on GPS technology, would malfunction. Air traffic control, reliant on GPS and weather information from satellites in space, would cease to function. Even our power stations and water treatment plants would fail.  

Dependence on space technologies can have a devastating impact if those technologies are under attack. If space becomes a place where countries can assert dominance over one another, outer space is the next battlefield.  

Read part 2 here.

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