Zero-Trust Principles for Space Cybersecurity

United Launch Alliance Delta 4 rocket. Credit: United Launch Alliance

Article: Op-ed | Don’t let hackers follow us to space (

Matt Erickson, vice president for customer success at Spider Oak, a secure communications and space cybersecurity company, submitted an op-ed to the November 2021 issue of SpaceNews magazine addressing the explosion of opportunity in government and commercial space uses and the importance of addressing cybersecurity concerns that will naturally follow early. Erickson recounts the massive increase in space systems in recent years, and identifies cybersecurity as a key risk saying “Hacked satellites could be shut down, disabled indefinitely by ransomware, or possibly even hijacked by attackers.” The solution to this, Erickson says, is to implement end-to-end encryption and zero-trust principles with space systems. As an example, Erickson discussed how this could expand government use of commercial assets whereby a commander could put in a request for information to commercial providers and the asset that can provide the data most quickly would receive the request. If properly encrypted, the data could be communicated back to the commander through untrusted infrastructure “without revealing how the satellite was tasked or what data it collected to its own operators or anyone else with access to the data flowing across the network, lawful or not.”

I was glad to have stumbled upon Erickson’s op-ed, which eloquently presents the case for government to be a leader in promoting modern end-to-end encryption as a central part of a zero-trust architecture of space systems. A key message I thought he was clever to present was that we are now entering a critical period where the architectures and standards adopted today will “solidify into the system for the next 50 years.” With the access to space increasing, and government and commercial capabilities in space increase, the importance to lay the groundwork now for a robust and secure future has never been greater.