RSA Conference Defending space systems against cyberthreats remains “urgent and requires high-level attention,” according to acting US National Cyber Director Kemba Walden. And to this end, the White House will host its first space industry cybersecurity workshop this week in southern California.

But before her stop in Long Beach, Walden met reporters at the RSA Conference in San Francisco, and securing cyberspace in outer space was one of the topics of discussion.  

“We are all aware that the first ‘shot’ in the current Ukraine conflict was a cyberattack against a US space company,” Walden said, referencing the bricking of Viasat terminals just as Russia invaded Ukraine in early 2022.

“The White House is deeply committed to driving efforts to enhance space systems cybersecurity, recognizing that the incredibly complex and unique space ecosystem requires a very close public-private partnership, given the pace and scale of private-sector innovation,” Walden continued.

Western space systems are in the sights of the usual suspects – China, Russia, etc – as evidenced by the Starlink and Viasat cyberattacks during Putin’s war on Ukraine. Securing this equipment is a multi-faceted challenge that spans domains, components, and public and private organizations. As such, the solution will require a collaborative approach, Walden told reporters. 

“You have the base stations, you have the links from base stations, to the satellites, and then you’ve got the satellites themselves,” she said. “You also have space innovation in the form of venture capital, and investment in space. Startups get eaten up by larger companies that … end up in critical space systems.”

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This makes secure-by-design space technology especially pressing, and it’s something the White House is tackling head on, Walden said.

The White House’s Cybersecurity Strategy, released last month, touched on the need to secure space-based systems, including those for navigation, positioning, and environmental monitoring.

Last month, the Office of the National Cyber Director (ONDC) co-hosted the Space Systems Cybersecurity Executive Forum with the National Space Council. This White House meeting included a classified threat briefing with senior government officials and sector space industry execs, as well as a non-classified roundtable discussion on public-private collaboration to better secure the space industry.

“One of the key areas we want to focus on is Space Policy Directive 5, which is the current US policy outlining cybersecurity design principles for space systems,” Walden said. “And now, we want to work with industry to put these principles into action.”

This will include regional workshops with the space industry — the first of which will be held in Long Beach for West Coast companies — to discuss current approaches to securing space systems and gaps in the process that require more guidance from policy makers.

ONDC will hold more of these workshops in the upcoming months in other parts of the US. ®