ESA announces study to protect ship satellite services from cyber attacks

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The European Space Agency (ESA) has joined forces with cyber security company, CYSEC SA, to develop solutions to protect its maritime satellite services for ship positioning and tracking from cyber threats.

The study will focus on ensuring the validity of satellite data sent to ship navigational systems that are paramount to vessel safety, including for the automatic identification system (AIS), the global navigation satellite system (GNSS) services and electronic chart display and information system (ECDIS).

Incidents of jamming (disruption of satellite signals to the vessel), spoofing (where non-existent ships appear on the AIS), hacking or tampering of the AIS and GNSS systems have taken place in the middle east, Black Sea region, and East Asia. These sorts of attacks are also thought to be state sponsored, for example, in the Black Sea basin where Russian authorities allegedly disrupted vessel traffic to Ukraine’s ports.

Such incidents have a direct impact on navigational safety, as vessels not receiving the correct satellite information may either change or continue course leading to a collision or grounding, especially when navigating narrow straits or near shore.

CYSEC will lead the feasibility study to investigate the protection of both automatic identification system (AIS) and global navigation satellite system (GNSS) communication services.

The ESA and European maritime stakeholders will provide CYSEC with guidance in the studies. CYSEC has established a consortium to develop and test potential solutions, composed of; U-blox, a global provider of positioning and wireless communication technologies for the automotive, industrial, and consumer markets; and Gomspace, a designer, integrator and manufacturer of nanosatellites for customers in the academic, government and commercial markets.

“Cybersecurity is a very important topic at ESA, not only for space infrastructures and missions, but also regarding all the services using satellite-based data and technologies,” said Laurence Duquerroy, ESA Space Solutions director.

IHS Markit has released the results of its joint Safety at Sea and BIMCO Cyber Security Survey. The survey showed that 77% of respondents would stop doing business with a third party supplier, if it was found to be the cause of a cyber incident, as such it would explain the renewed focus of providers to ensure that their cyber security systems are protected.