The protection of space systems against the new generation of cyberattacks is the focus of the Cyber Space Simulation (CSS) project, launched on 14 April 2023. Led by the French Institute for Technological Research (IRT) Saint Exupéry, CSS will include contributions from leading institutional, academic and commercial partners in the space, cybersecurity and technology sectors. RHEA Groupe France is responsible for the technical coordination of the project.
A group of leading space and security organizations in France has launched a project that will use digital twins to investigate how to better protect satellites against cyberattacks. The objective of the 3-year CSS project is to mature the technological blocks necessary to improve the state-of-the-art in cybersecurity for space systems and thus improve the resilience of those systems. This is vital in the context of ever-increasing cyber threats to space systems, which are now widely acknowledged as critical infrastructure on a global scale.
RHEA’s cyber-range solution CITEF will be used to develop a highly realistic simulation of a space system, integrating the space, ground and user segments, to demonstrate the effectiveness of this approach. The digital twin will be subjected to highly sophisticated, persistent cyberattacks (simulating advanced persistent threat [APT] cyberattacks) in order to detect potential security flaws. This provides a way of testing technological solutions in a realistic environment without endangering a real system (e.g. an operational ground station or satellite in orbit).
The project will rely on innovative technologies, including cyber threat intelligence, to identify groups of attackers and profile attack patterns in order to refine knowledge of cybercriminals and improve detection and protection policies. It will also use artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to process threats and associated responses.
Nicolas Vincent, Managing Director of RHEA Groupe France and Senior Vice-President Space Business Development and Sales of RHEA Group, said: “At a time when the space sector has become a target for cybercriminals, knowing how to simulate the performance of a space system very precisely without disrupting it operationally, thanks to our CITEF cyber-range solution, is a real asset and opens up new perspectives for analyzing the benefits offered by a new generation of protection solutions.”
RHEA Groupe France is responsible for the technical coordination of the CSS project, which is being led by IRT Saint Exupéry, a specialist in aerospace research. Other key partners include the French Space Agency (CNES), the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), the Systems Analysis and Architecture Laboratory (LAAS), the Air and Space Military School, MyDataModels and Thales Alenia Space France.
Space systems are both difficult to access and highly constrained in terms of size, mass and energy autonomy, which limits the ability of ground operators to obtain real-time data on the state of the satellite. The CSS project will explore the feasibility of placing an intelligent agent on board a satellite, to act as a sort of autonomous observer that perceives its environment through sensors connected to the ground system. This will relay, in real time, information on the status of the satellite to be used in behaviour analysis on the ground with the aim of detecting, as early as possible, the beginning of a cyberattack.
Didier Rigal, Business Development Director, IRT Saint Exupéry, said: “Space systems are a critical infrastructure that provide essential services to modern society. A cyberattack on a space system can have disastrous consequences, which is why, at IRT Saint Exupéry, we develop innovative solutions based on AI to strengthen the cybersecurity of critical systems. The development of innovative and robust solutions for the benefit of the space industry is at the heart of IRT’s mission; RHEA’s experience in space cybersecurity makes it a leading partner in the project.”
LCL Michaël, the Air and Space Military School, commented: “Space and cyberspace are new fields of conflict in which our officer cadets will operate. For the Air and Space Military School, and in particular the Aerospace Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence (CEC), a partner of the project, mastering cyber threats on our space systems is essential to our sovereignty and is now crucial. This project will enable us to better understand these threats and the technologies available to deal with them through simulations of attacks on space systems in a very realistic environment, thanks to RHEA’s cyber-range solution.”
The CSS project officially started on 14 April 2023 in Toulouse, France, and is expected to be completed in 2026.