Rising demand for satellite communications connectivity and earth observation data, combined with the war in Ukraine and international geopolitical tensions elsewhere, is driving interest and investment in the space economy and with it the commercial and operational importance of cybersecurity for space-based applications, systems and hardware. That’s according to Paul Liias, Head of Space at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications for Estonia.
Speaking ahead of this year’s Software Defined Space Conference in Tallinn, Estonia, Liias said, “Space-based systems and technologies today play an increasingly significant role in the economy and in people’s day-to-day lives - whether it’s in terms of communications, data or content services delivered via satellite: providing navigation for vehicles on land, sea or in the air: or gathering accurate scientific data for improved weather and environmental monitoring purposes.
“Over the last 12 months as well, the conflict in Ukraine has underscored the strategic importance of space-based satellites and systems - more so than was the case three or four years ago. More than ever, we have a responsibility to manage and protect these systems properly with the latest cybersecurity measures.”
Investment bank Morgan Stanley estimates that the global space industry, currently valued at approx. USD$350 billion, could rise in value to more than USD$ one trillion by the year 2040. This year’s conference will provide a forum for technologists, academics and representatives from national governments to debate the latest developments and issues shaping the space industry – including the role of regulation.
“Regulation provides legal certainty to businesses - but over-regulation can slow down innovation,” continued Liias. “The challenge with regulation is for it to be meaningful but not restrictive. The fast rate of innovation makes it difficult to predict what will happen in the next couple of years in the space economy. National governments and international bodies such as the European Union should work in partnership with the private sector to devise policies that encourage growth and guide the direction of the space industry – but which are also flexible enough to adapt to changing circumstances.”
“Developers working in space cybersecurity have to manage competing priorities. On the one hand, they must investigate, identify and understand potential threats, and on the other, develop effective counter-measures at an affordable price point. Making space cybersecurity accessible and affordable is key. Bringing costs down will help ensure large and small players alike in the space ecosystem can put in place the necessary levels of security from cyber-attack.
Commenting on the choice of Tallinn as the location for the conference, Liias explained, “Estonia is one of the most digitally advanced countries in the world and an established centre for cybersecurity R&D. The capital Tallinn is the home of the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence, a multinational and interdisciplinary cyber defence hub that includes space. Resources here include “cyber ranges” – that is, secure testbed environments where we research the latest emerging threats: conduct simulated cyber-attacks: and develop and then rigorously test new solutions and counter-measures.
“Our efforts to date have been on protecting critical infrastructure on the ground such as power stations, energy grids, telecoms networks and government IT,” he continued. “But the growing importance of the space domain together with geopolitical events of the last few years means we’ve expanded this focus. We now want to apply our cybersecurity expertise to space-based assets - whether it’s mission control centres and ground stations here on earth or manned and unmanned spacecraft above.”
“The SDSC conference has grown since the inaugural event in November 2021. This year will feature more keynote speakers and more panel discussions, and also a new series of interactive workshops. Previous events have lacked examples of real-world space-based activities for our audience to learn about and participate in. With the new workshop sessions, we’re fixing this.
“Each workshop is dedicated to a particular topic - for example, how space law and space traffic management can work together: how to navigate the US space regulatory system for EU-based companies that want to enter the US market: and how to draft national legislation for space governing, which will draw on my organisation’s [Estonia’s Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications] drafting of Estonian National Space Law. Our audience will leave the conference with new knowledge and insights drawn from the practical experience of others that will help them with their own space projects.
Liias concluded, “As the ecosystem of the space economy expands with new technologies and new opportunities, we should regard cybersecurity as an operational and commercial priority that is the foundation for all space-based activity.”
This year’s Software Defined Security Conference takes place at the historic Mustpeade Maja venue in Tallinn, Estonia, for three days from Tuesday 31 October until Thursday 2 November.