February 15, 2023

Nominal Systems

Preparing Spacecraft for Cyber Attacks: The Role of Real-Time Simulation Software

Dr Brenton Smith

Satellites play a critical role in many aspects of modern life, from communication and navigation to earth observation and military operations. As a result, they are increasingly becoming targets of cyber attacks. Cyber threats to satellites can take many forms, including hacking, jamming, spoofing, malicious software, and physical attacks. Given the vital role that satellites play, cyber attacks on satellites can have significant and far-reaching consequences, including disruption of communication and navigation services, loss of valuable data, and even physical damage to satellite equipment.

Protecting satellites from cyber intrusions requires a multi-layered approach that addresses various types of cyber threats. Key protective measures for satellites include encryption, access control, system hardening, regular software updates, network segmentation, monitoring and logging, and incident response planning. By implementing these and other protective measures, organizations can reduce the risk of cyber attacks on satellites and ensure that these critical systems remain operational and secure.

Wargaming is a useful tool for testing and improving the readiness of satellite systems against cyber threats. Real-time satellite simulation software can be used to simulate cyber attacks on satellite systems, allowing organizations to test their defensive measures and identify any weaknesses.

Real-time satellite simulation software can also be used to conduct red teaming exercises, where a team of experts simulate cyber attacks on satellite systems in order to identify and test the response of the organizations that operate these systems. Red teaming exercises can help organizations to identify weaknesses in their defensive measures and improve their incident response plans.

For simulation software to be valuable for valid testing against cyber threats, it must have the following properties:

  1. Realistic simulations: The simulation software should be able to simulate real-world scenarios and attacks as closely as possible, in order to accurately test the organization's defences. This includes both the satellite system and operational system.
  2. Integration with existing tools: The simulation software should be able to integrate with existing cybersecurity tools, such as event management (SIEM) systems; operations tools, and the rest of the mission system. This can help organizations to more accurately simulate real-world scenarios and assess the effectiveness of their existing security measures.
  3. Visual feedback and analytics: To create a realistic, real-time and immersive experience the simulation software should provide clear and concise reports and analytics, allowing organizations to understand the results of the simulation and identify areas for improvement.
  4. Multiplayer support: Multiplayer support should be included to allow players to compete against each other in real-time.
  5. Scenario creation and customization: Players should be able to create and customize scenarios, including selecting different space systems, orbits, and mission properties.

Recently, Nominal Systems held a successful Red Team vs. Blue Team event utilizing its Nominal Editor product. Nominal Editor is a low-level simulation environment designed to enable users to configure and visualize precise system-level models of spacecraft. The event featured real-time simulations of various spacecraft subsystems, including flight software; telemetry and telecommand (TMTC); amongst others, that integrated with external operator consoles. This setup allowed multiple operators to control the simulated spacecraft, while the accurate TMTC, data, and communications simulations offered a platform for conducting offensive cyber attacks on the spacecraft.

In Conclusion, Cybersecurity is a critical issue for satellites and the organizations that operate them. With the increasing number of cyber attacks on satellites, it is important that organizations take steps to protect these critical systems from cyber threats. Real-time satellite simulation software can be an effective tool for testing and improving the readiness of satellite systems against cyber attacks. By conducting wargaming exercises and red teaming, organizations can identify and address weaknesses in their defensive measures, improving their overall cybersecurity posture.