IT infrastructure

How criminals could use space junk to attack any business

Cybercriminals could use space junk to create chaos on Earth by causing a phenomenon that would make satellite communication impossible.

Share article

A powerful way cybercriminals can cause catastrophic damage on Earth is to attack in space. It may sound like science fiction, but now we all rely on space infrastructure to do business, any organization could be affected.

Space enthusiast and Distinguished Chair of the cybersecurity program at Middle East Institute Chris Kubecka explains a little-known space disaster scenario we should be more aware of in Tomorrow Unlocked’s video Threats in Outer Space.

Smash-ups in space

Although space exploration has brought many world-changing advances, it’s left orbit like many places on Earth – littered. From obsolete satellites to rocket parts and chips of paint, space junk circles the Earth at high speeds, threatening to collide with useful things, like working satellites and the International Space Station.

Collisions could be deadly or cause irreparable damage to expensive equipment. Any smash-up creates more space junk, raising the risk to other orbiting objects. For a sense of just how much ‘stuff’ there is up there, see known space objects tracked in real-time on StuffIn.Space, some known only as ‘debris’ or ‘unknown.’

The ‘black swan’ of space crashes

One of the most serious consequences of a space collision is Kessler Syndrome. Kubecka describes it: “A big enough collision would create a chain reaction, causing space junk to smash into each other all over orbit, forming a dust cloud.”

Earth could no longer communicate with satellites or send up missions to make repairs, making systems reliant on satellites, like aircraft and shipping navigation, useless.

An accident or deliberate attack could trigger a Kessler Syndrome event. Kubecka explains, “It’s now so cheap to build ‘attack CubeSats‘ or even larger satellites. You could cause collisions.” She also points to the growing use of Internet of Things (IoT) devices in space tech. “If IoT goes rogue, that’s a big problem.”

As wealthy business people become more visible in space exploration, the potential for huge media attention will attract cybercriminals to attack their space systems and use them to create chaos in space – and so, chaos on Earth.

Preventing a ‘Kessler’ event

As well as protecting space systems from cyberattack through the best available methods, like cyber immunity – building systems in a way that makes them almost impossible to compromise – we must take out the space trash.

As part of the Securing Space initiative, Kaspersky supports fledgling innovators StartRocket as they develop a new way to remove space debris from orbit – with foam.

Getting rid of space junk

Kaspersky is partnering with businesses to help speed up space junk removal through its program Securing Space.

About authors

Suraya Casey is a freelance writer, editor and content strategist based in New Zealand. Her interests include cybersecurity, technology, climate, transport, healthcare and accessibility.