insights

Introduction to Aerospace Cybersecurity

Avionics and Space |  Cybersecurity and Encryption

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Aerospace and Defense

Outer space is virtually inert, and although its environmental conditions are unsuitable for human life, the aerospace technology that dominates its domain is essential, as noted in the
National Aerospace Security Strategy
(Spain, 2019):

“Aerospace technology is an indispensable element in the functioning of modern societies, its assets are part of critical infrastructures, and it plays a crucial role in meeting the needs of citizens.”

Thus, as the backbone of modern societies,
the weight of the aerospace element for National Security is radical,
The entire technological complex that enables the aerospace domain faces threats that, if they materialize, would have catastrophic consequences.

Aerospace technology: vulnerabilities, risks and threats

Aerospace technology is complex and varied, and is deployed in different spaces:

  • Earth space: computer systems, servers, databases, antennas, SATCOM installations and ICBM ports, among others.
  • Atmosphere: Aircraft and drones, manned or unmanned, as well as, less commonly, ballistic missiles.
  • Exosphere: satellites and space stations, such as the International Space Station.

It is therefore a whole interconnected and multifunctional technological complex whose systems optimize the performance of fundamental human activitiessuch as information and intelligence gathering and production (IMINT, GEOINT, CYBINT), communication, travel, provision of essential goods and territorial defense, among others, such as web searches, watching TV, using GPS services…

1 – Vulnerabilities

Aerospace technology complexes are more vulnerable to various threats based on three intrinsic and differentiating conditions

three intrinsic and differentiating conditions

of the aerospace field:

  • Global Common Outer space is a common global space with lax or no regulation. This gray zone is the origin of what has been called the “gray zone”, asymmetrical lawfare and therefore a great vulnerability for democratic states in the face of totalitarian ones.
  • High degree of technification and cyber dependence Along with underwater, it is the most technologically advanced domain. Involves the use of the most complex technologyand the professional performance of the most qualified and specialized technicians. It is therefore extremely important to cyberdependentcyberspace is the vehicular tool for its operation.
  • Chain effects The high interconnectivity of all aerospace technology complexes is a prerequisite for their operation. Any breach may affect the whole complex, threats in this regard require a rapid, immediate and adequate defensive reaction.
2 – Risks

Due to its complexity, aerospace technology is exposed to a wide range of risks, which affect it to a greater or lesser extent depending on the security measures implemented to counteract them. Some of them are:

  • Sabotage of installations, servers, communications…
  • Its use in armed conflicts.
  • The attack on surveillance and control surveillance and control systems.
  • The development and proliferation of ballistic and ballistic and hypersonic missiles.
  • The disruption of essential services essential services, such as communications, navigation, meteorology…
  • Interception communications.
  • Disturbance or manipulation of communications related to air traffic, supply of goods, location of objects via satellite…
  • Obsolescence of equipment, software… which can create serious vulnerabilities.
  • Use of unmanned aircraft for the commission of illicit or violent activities.
  • Cyberattacks
3 – Threats

The seriousness of the threats. The importance of aerospace-related activities became evident after the tragic terrorist attack on the World Trade Center on September 11. And while unauthorized incursion into air systems and hijacking of aircraft for terrorist purposes are the most obvious threats, there are others that concern the rest of the aerospace technology complexes:

Cyber threats and aerospace cybersecurity: What does a cyberattack cyber attack involve?

The level of aerospace security will depend to a greater degree on the degree of cybersecurity implemented in its components. The vast majority of aerospace-related assets, due to their extraordinary cyber-dependence and interconnectedness, can be affected by a cyber-attack.

Cyber-attacks have the ability to degrade, paralyze or destroy aerospace infrastructures or services such as operations, communications and data processing centers, control and satellite tracking stations, among others, and are therefore only possible if two conditions are met:

  1. If performed by a multidisciplinary multidisciplinary organization with a high degree of specialization.
  2. If this group has the resources resources human, material, temporal and economic resources to carry it out.

In this sense, only a large government intelligence agency and/or a strong military organization has, in principle, the capability to carry out complex cyber attacks (APT) against aerospace systems. The cyber threats of most concern are:

  • Cyber espionage and disruptive cyber attacks: cause loss of confidentiality, integrity and availability of databases, projects… also causing damage to industrial competitiveness, reputation and national economy (the aerospace industry accounts for 2.5% of GDP in Spain).
  • Intrusions and manipulations of communication systems: alteration or manipulation of aeronautical and astronautical traffic with interference, deception or disturbance of communication systems and electromagnetic signal systems (radar).


To avoid total or partial
total or partial inoperability of aerospace technology complexes; and
ensuring the reliability of the information
will therefore be two fundamental issues on which Aerospace Cybersecurity will have to work.

This Herculean task is also incumbent on the private companies. Together with state actors, they must guide their security measures towards unity of action and centralized crisis management, anticipation and preventive actions, efficiency of measures and resilience of the entire system in the event of a threat materializing.