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Debate Over Space as a Critical Infrastructure in Europe Takes Center Stage at Cysat

By Mark Holmes | April 24, 2024

Philippe Baptiste, CEO of French Space Agency CNES, speaks at Cysat in Paris on April 24. Photo: Via Satellite

PARIS — French and European government and military leaders speaking at the Cysat event in Paris on Wednesday said that Europe’s changing geopolitical environment is leading to increased cybersecurity threats against space assets.

During a discussion on the importance of space as critical infrastructure, Philippe Baptiste, CEO of French Space Agency CNES, said it was clear that space is becoming more crucial for society and defense, as well as overall economies.

“Space is a business,” Baptiste said. “It is a very important target for people that want to disrupt our economies. European space has become much more complex, especially when you compare it to the U.S.”

“We are running more than just programs. We have a technical center, for example. The threats we face can have a direct impact on daily lives,” Baptiste said. “The threats are coming from various players. We have set up a dedicated security organization. We have quite a significant budget for this. The first thing we have to do is have a system where we can really share the threats with trusted partners. You need to be up to date on what is going on.”

He referenced that CNES recently joined Space ISAC and signed an MoU for bidirectional sharing of cyber and physical threats to the space sector.

Baptiste spoke of the importance of investing in new companies and startups focused on space and cybersecurity. CNES is working heavily on the IRIS² constellation, where the cyber element will be crucial. However, despite the initiatives of the likes of Space ISAC, Baptiste believes the industry could still do more.

“I think today everybody is concerned by cybersecurity attacks on space assets. Do we share enough? I am not sure,” he said. “A cyber attack on a launch site, for example, could have a substantial impact.”

French Space Command Talks Cyber Threats

Maj. Gen. Philippe Adam, Space Commander of French Space Command, said in a keynote speech that on a whole, we underestimate just how much space impacts our daily lives, but that we can no longer do that given its overall importance in society and defense.

“Cyber and space are considered real infrastructures for us now and in the future. We will use space and digital networks in many different ways. We naturally need to consider security,” he said. “Space is a strategic domain. We need to make sure space is available to all domains. We consider cyber and space as operational domains. We expect the war, or any war, to take place in these domains.”

Adam spoke about a “gray zone” within these domains which is seeing increased activity. A gray zone between cyber and space is a place for a ‘hybrid’ strategy, with enemies able to operate in these domains as they are open, have zero borders, and everyone operates in them together.

“There is the potential for your enemy to do things just below the aggression threshold,” Adam said. “You can operate and fly everywhere. How do you quantify potential aggressions? You can drift without anyone noticing. Within the gray zone, you can stay below the threshold of conflict. We are pretty sure that aggression possibilities will be used. It is not a case that a war in space will happen, it is when it will happen.”

French Space Command is focused on keeping digital networks secure. All of its adds to the increasing importance of space, both in daily society, and in the military domain.

“Space operations can now be used in general military operations in a way they weren’t before,” Adam said. “I need to be able to see what is happening in space, understanding it, and reacting accordingly. The danger in space can be to a commercial satellite, not just a military one. Putin has spoken about commercial satellites as legitimate targets. It is a team game. We are all in this together.”

European Critical Infrastructure

One of the key themes of Cysat is whether space is considered a critical infrastructure and not just a crucial one. Guillaume de La Brosse, head of Innovation and NewSpace for the European Commission, said this discussion is taking place in the U.S., but now needs to be had more urgently in Europe.

“We need collectively to recognize space as a critical infrastructure. The more it gains value, the more it gets exposed to threats. Space is becoming software. Space is about data. There is a need to protect that data. Space is about the supply chain. Low-cost, high impact attacks can take place here. We need to pay attention to cybersecurity. We need to enhance the level of cybersecurity in our space assets. There is a need to have a comprehensive approach to cybersecurity,” La Brosse said.

Aside from raising awareness of cybersecurity for space, Europe is also focused on developing a proper regulatory framework around cybersecurity and space. de La Brosse talked of the importance of implementing an EU space law.

“You need to think about issues such as cybersecurity by design, hardening the level of cybersecurity in the supply chain, etc. We want to ensure that everyone is running a risk assessment to identify risks and threats,” he said. “Space is a connected area. There are a lot of assets. There is a pressing need to regulate cybersecurity. We don’t want to over-regulate. However, we need a common set of minimum rules. But we also need to preserve Europe as a hub for entrepreneurship.”

Increasing Value of Space Security

Rodrigo Da Costa, executive director of the European Agency for the Space Program (EUSPA) talked about how EU space applications will be increasingly important in areas such as helping Europe having more sustainable economies, greener policies in the areas of transport, agriculture, biodiversity, energy, and smart cities. As Europe tries to implement more green policies, space will find itself front and center in enabling these to happen. Da Costa said that industry and governments need to think beyond just the satellites, and that space is as much about the ground and software as it is about the satellite.

“The protection of space must be multi-layered protection. In the last nine to 10 months, we have seen more collision warnings. Space is now a critical infrastructure. From the political spectrum, there is an increasing interest in space.”

The theme of day one of Cysat was the need for the space domain to be considered important and in need of protection. Massimo Mercati, head of ESA Security Office, European Space Agency (ESA) said that ESA has undergone “a huge transformation” in how it views cybersecurity. The agency upgraded its security framework, and found a new way to do security assurance.

Mercati pointed to the fact of a new CYSOC (cybersecurity operation center) at ESA now operates as an example of its more progressive strategy. Everyone from the director general of ESA and down now sees cybersecurity as a vital element of ESA’s work.

“We have majorly upgraded our security framework. It is now a major backbone for us,” Mercati said. “We have found a new way to do security assurance.”

Explore the vital role of space systems at CyberSat 2024 this November. This year’s two-track event delves into the importance of space assets being deemed critical infrastructure alongside key topics like data security, AI, and space-based anomaly detection. Visit to learn more.