Adversaries Capitalize While US Debates Space as Critical Infrastructure, Panelists Say
The United States is still in the discussion phase of whether or not space systems should be considered a critical infrastructure sector, while adversary China reportedly tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile, Dr. Dawn Beyer, Lockheed Martin senior fellow, said Tuesday during the Value of Space Summit hosted by Space ISAC and The Aerospace Corporation.
“I’m surprised that the United States is still talking about whether or not space should be part of the critical infrastructure — I don’t think our adversaries are struggling with that question,” Beyer said. “I honestly think that we should have already been part of the critical infrastructure.”
The U.S. government, through the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) designates 16 critical infrastructure sectors. These sectors are considered vital to the United States national, economic, and/or health security. Space enables many of the sectors including communications, defense industrial base, and food and agriculture, but it is not considered a critical sector on its own.
A House bill — The Space Infrastructure Act — which would designate space as a critical infrastructure was introduced earlier this year, and many in the space industry see this as a crucial designation to secure space systems.
John Galer, assistant vice president of national security space for the Aerospace Industries Association said in the panel this designation would immediately give space a greater seat at the table with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), much like the Space Force gave space a greater seat at the table in the Department of Defense (DoD). He also said it would bring additional support in the event of a cyber event, and come with access to regional CISA hubs.
Yet Galer said functional aspects of such a designation still need to be sorted out, like which federal agency would serve as the sector’s risk management agency, and how space would be separated out from the current critical infrastructures that it plays into.
Beyer said security deficiencies in the space sector need to be addressed as soon as possible, regardless of whether or not space is an official critical infrastructure. She believes that out of all the domains, space is the furthest behind when it comes to cybersecurity and struggles with workforce pipeline and retention, especially developing specialists that can serve as cyber architects.
“You read what our adversaries are doing in the space and cyber domain — we were trying to figure out what we were going to call it when Russia was already using it against us in information warfare,” Beyer said. “It seems like we spend so much time trying to figure out things that should be so simple, when we should be spending more time trying to figure out how to defend that space.”
Samuel Visner, technical fellow for MITRE, co-authored an opinion piece for Politico earlier this year about why space needs to be designated a critical infrastructure. He said Tuesday that there is no time to lose, but the industry needs to act as if it were officially designated a critical infrastructure.
“We should become far more far more aware of the interdependency of these space systems,” Visner said. “As these new 5G/LEO constellations are lofted, they are going to be connected to global cloud infrastructure, SpaceX with Azure, [Kuiper] with AWS. Think of billions of devices on the Earth, connected through the cloud, connected through global 5G satellite infrastructures — that level of interconnection for critical infrastructures around the world is going to be vital.”
Visner argued the industry should increase and improve the quality of cybersecurity engineering and resilience engineering for all space systems because of the coming interdependency of more complicated networks. Specifically, he pushed for a public/private community to look at security interdependencies and understand how cyber issues threaten every critical infrastructure.
“Our adversaries see space as critical to their national interest,” Visner said. “Frankly, I think they see [space] as a vulnerability to our national interest that they can exploit in support of their national interest. While we are considering this issue, our adversaries and potential adversaries are being active.”