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Satellite network providers say they're acting in advance of global standards

October 24th 2017
TOKYO — Satellite services providers for corporate networks said cyber security’s growing importance means they can no longer assume their customers are adopting best practices and must verify on their own that other companies’ hardware is secure from attack.

Officials from Speedcast and Kratos said that, at customers’ request, they are acting ahead of industry cyber security regulations they said are on the way.

A high-profile attack like the one that hit commercial-shipping giant Maersk helped drive home the urgency. Maersk told investors that a cyber attack in June would end up costing around $300 million.

“It’s really part of our life today and will be so more and more,” Kratos Senior Vice President Mike Smith said here at APSCC 2017. “In this capex-intensive industry, we’ve seen technology that’s been out there for 10-15 years.”

For Kratos, the challenge for service providers is making sure its service network is secure despite the fact that many maritime and energy customers continue to operate with old equipment.

“It’s a legacy of where things were,” Smith said. “There weren’t end-to-end services, or information-sharing. So how do you make sure you provide the most reliable components you have? It’s the ground-system providers, the satellite manufacturers, the satellite operators and the service providers — it has to be a community effort.”

“You see this regularly in the enterprise space,” Smith said. “The cloud providers will set a standard, then the Infrastructure, then the platform guys, and then service providers will layer on top of that. I suspect it will be the case in our industry where there are going to be more standards.”

Speedcast Executive Vice President Tim Bailey — whose company has concluded 15 separate acquisitions in recent years in a consolidating industry — said the International Maritime Organization is expected to produce cyber security standards in the next two or three years.

Bailey and Smith said cyber security provisions are now routinely written into they service-level agreements with customers, making it incumbent upon the service provider to handle system-wide security.

“Energy and maritime are two of the biggest [cyber security-sensitive sectors] for us,” Bailey said. “Energy because of the criticality of it. Maritime is big because as we saw with the Maersk incident and others in the headlines, large shipping companies are targets for pirates and ransomware. Maritime operates in remote environments, at sea for long periods, away from their IT systems.”

Satellite the most crucial, but ground terminal the most vulnerable

The cyber security discussion here appeared to agree that while cyber attack on a satellite would be the most consequential in terms of network effects, that the most likely point of entry for such an attack is the ground network.

“The vulnerability is at the terminal level,” Bailey said. “There are very few people that can take a satellite out of the sky. It’s very hard. There are a lot of people who can take that thumb drive and plug it into a terminal.”

Some cyber security experts are concerned that the relative security of satellite networks until now will erode as hundreds or thousands of low-cost satellites are launched as part of constellations for two-way-communications and are connected to millions of user terminals.

Kratos’s Smith acknowledged the concern but said:

“ I think we’re ready, but readiness is relative to time. One thing that is clear about this space is that you need to be on guard constantly and readjust your technologies because the threats are changing daily. I feel confident in what we have today and tomorrow with respect to IoT and M2M,” he said, referring to Internet of Things and Machine to Machine satellite networks.

The Global VSAT Forum (GVF), which represents the ground segment of the space sector, has created its own label of good practices for its members in response to concerns that the cyber threat was about to take the industry by surprise.

We were not doing anything on cyber security before” 2014 and a U.S. company’s report alleging weaknesses in specific satellite terminal models.

“There was a scramble at that time and we created the Cyber Security Task Force, and a set of best-practice guidelines.

“There were public statements about VSAT terminals where the default password on the terminal in the instruction manual when you bought the hub had not been changed by the new owner of the network. And the identification of where those networks were around the world was being posted publicly.

There was some catch-up going on by our industry to begin to close these gaps. We have now gone out to all our members with guidance on this. Speedcast was the first to be certified.”

Bailey said the best practices in the world can’t always overcome human error and forgetfulness.

“Technologies only go so far,” Bailey said. “Now, we don’t just ship a terminal to a vessel. We have field engineers go on board and install it, and work with customers to put into place procedures to prevent cyber attack.”