Posted 7 May 2020 in Earth Observation, News, Security.
As Covid-19 lockdowns continue globally and governments formulate recovery plans, RHEA Group is playing an active part in a range of pandemic-related initiatives in Canada and Europe. The projects are drawing on our expertise in space, security and artificial intelligence, and have required our teams to respond quickly to gather, interpret and share data.

ECHO COVID-19 Cyber Defence Alliance

One key challenge for nations and organizations of all types and sizes is defending themselves against cyberattacks that are using the pandemic as a cover. Through the ECHO project (European network of Cybersecurity centres and competence Hub for innovation and Operations), RHEA is at the centre of a European initiative to protect EU member states’ key services and critical infrastructure from cyberattacks that are taking advantage of the COVID-19 crisis.

RHEA is technical coordinator of the ECHO project, one of four EU pilot projects launched in 2019 to strengthen the EU’s cybersecurity capacity. The ECHO network of cybersecurity centres has now joined forces to establish the ECHO COVID-19 Cyber Defence Alliance. Its primary objective is to ensure no disruption of COVID-19 health operations, essential services, and economic recovery operations and societal functions.

The Alliance has already published a whitepaper entitled ‘The COVID-19 Hackers Mind-set’ to support organizations in their efforts to counter any cyber threats. In addition, the Alliance is issuing daily posts with advice and warnings on key social media channels.

ESA Rapid Action COVID-19 Earth Observation (RACE)

COVID-19 is also having significant impact on commerce, especially non-essential businesses. RHEA staff are part of the team working a project instigated by the European Space Agency to investigate the extent of this impact at key economic and commercial hotspots – Rapid Action COVID-19 Earth Observation (RACE). The project will help demonstrate the potential for Earth observation (EO) data to monitor the impact of the pandemic.

The RACE project is being undertaken by the Engineering and Management Support Services (EMSS) team of ESA Data Applications, which includes personnel from RHEA and Solenix, along with RHEA AI experts. Together, they are using very high resolution satellite data to analyse the progression and changes in behaviour at supermarkets and shopping centres in major EU cities affected by lockdown, commercial ports, industrial areas, airports and railways stations. Overall, they are monitoring 11 sites and five indicators.

Currently the team is analysing Pleiades and PlanetScope data using the Euro Data Cube processing service, but this may be extended to use other very high resolution data as this is made available.

The RACE project started on 26 March 2020. RHEA’s AI experts were then brought in to contribute their expertise in early April and the first batch of results were submitted in mid-April, with more due imminently. Early results show that all commercial areas were experiencing drops in parking, with medium-sized ones seeing decreases of over 50% in same cases, compared with smaller falls for large areas. Ship traffic at ports, on the other hand, was not showing any noticeable decreases.

Providing global pandemic support

“We’re extremely proud to be able to offer our expertise in these two different areas to support ongoing efforts to counter the consequences of COVID-19,” said Arne Matthyssen, RHEA Group Chief Solutions and Innovation Officer. “No one is immune to the effects of the pandemic, with cyber threats increasing massively and businesses suffering to various degrees from falls in commerce.”

“These two projects are running in addition to the volunteering work that our cybersecurity experts are doing in Canada through the Canadian COVID-19 Cyber Defence Force. It’s a tribute to our staff that they have been responding quickly to the needs of all types of organization and in multiple ways. We will continue to look for opportunities to provide our help where we can.”

RHEA is also responsible for providing engineering support and controlling the ground station for the Sentinel-5P satellite, whose data is being used to show the significant changes in concentrations of nitrogen dioxide over areas where lockdown has been implemented. Nitrogen dioxide is primarily produced by traffic and factories, and is therefore a key indicator of industrial activity. This data is now being analysed to assess its relationship with COVID-19.

Further information

Download the ECHO COVID-19 Cyber Defence Alliance whitepaper.

Follow the ECHO COVID-19 Cyber Defence Alliance to receive daily cybersecurity support updates:

Find out more about Pleiades and PlanetScope data, and the Euro Data Cube being used in the RACE project.