NASA conducting cybersecurity review of Deep Space Network tracking site

In early February 2023, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) took down their long standing website that tracks activities on NASA’s Deep Space Network (DSN). The website, DSN Now, reported activities at the DSN’s three sites in Australia, California, and Spain – providing real-time information about what antennas at each site were transmitting to or receiving data from science missions in the solar system, illustrated the level of activity of the network, and has been previously used to gain insights about the status of missions before formal announcements.

NASA’s decision to disable the website comes ahead of the crewed Artemis missions. JPL stated, “NASA and the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory are in the process of conducting a preemptive cyber security review of the real-time data provided on the Deep Space Network Now website as the agency prepares to support communications and navigation needs for crewed Artemis missions to the Moon using the Deep Space Network”.

Given the importance of the reconnaissance stage of the kill chain for cyber attacks, the removal of the DSN Now website from public domain may be a good faith effort by NASA to reduce surface area for potential cyber attacks. Other crewed missions, including the ISS and commercial crew missions, do not use the DSN and the networks they use do not have similar public facing tools.

In support of this suspected motivation, NASA has noted that the website would reveal information about communications with Artemis that could enable eavesdropping on or even jamming of communications with the crewed Orion spacecraft. These potential cyberattacks could jeopardize crewed missions, and in the worst outcome, be life threatening.

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