The Defense Intelligence Agency is preparing to release an updated version of its 2019 report, Challenges of Security in Space, which includes information on physical and cyber threats to satellites and ground networks. Credit: Defense Intelligence Agency

SAN FRANCISCO — The Space Information Sharing and Analysis Center, or Space ISAC, is eager to share information about cyber threats and other potential security vulnerabilities with the small satellite industry.

In April the Space ISAC established a Small Satellite Community of Interest “to develop and deliver risk-mitigation strategies to members and government partners to better protect this sector of the larger space industry,” Erin Miller, Space ISAC executive director, said Aug. 9 during a side meeting of the 35th annual Small Satellite Conference. The small satellite community of interest will “work as a virtual forum of Space ISAC staff and commercial and government experts, collaborating to identify, analyze and develop mitigation strategies for the small satellite industry,” Miller added.

Increasing numbers of small satellites being launched by commercial firms, government agencies and academia face many of the same challenges as larger satellites including the physical threat of collision with other satellites or debris as well as cyber threats including hacking and jamming.

The Small Satellite Community of Interest offers “an opportunity for those of us in this smallsat community to have a chance to share, learn and discuss” those threats and to make satellites safer, said Catherine Venturini, co-chair of the Space ISAC Small Satellite Community of Interest and Aerospace Corp. senior leader for science and technology strategy and development.

The nonprofit Space ISAC, based in Colorado Springs, was established in 2019 to bring together representatives from government agencies and companies to share intelligence and information about threats and vulnerabilities.  In 2020, the organization created an unclassified portal.

Space ISAC founding members include Kratos, Microsoft, SES and Lockheed Martin as well as NASA, the National Reconnaissance Office, National Security Agency and other U.S. government agencies. The Space ISAC is holding discussions with the European Space Agency, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and DLR, the German Aerospace Center, about becoming official members.

Space ISAC holds monthly webinars, working group meetings and communities of interest meetings.

The Aug. 9 meeting, Avoiding the Hackers: Small Sat Information Sharing and Analysis Discussion, featured a presentation on the virtual “Hack-A-Sat” event associated with the 2020 Def Con cybersecurity convention. The qualification round for another Hack-A-Sat challenge, supported by the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Space Force, is underway.

In addition, Troy Shafford, senior intelligence officer for the Space and Counter-Space program at the Defense Intelligence Agency, gave a briefing drawn from an updated version of DIA’s 2019 report, “Challenges of Security in Space,” scheduled to be released this fall.

The report outlines a wide variety of potential threats to satellites and their ground-based networks.

“Generally, both China and Russia have a fairly robust electronic warfare capability,” Shafford said. “We’re all aware at a nonspecific level of their level of cyber capability and we’re beginning to get more information about those [anti-satellite] missiles and about the directed energy weapons.”

Small satellite companies seeking additional information can contact DIA for unclassified briefing or classified briefings their personnel who possess the appropriate security clearances, Shafford said.

Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. She...