ISS is testing cybersecurity orbital protocols

The encryption process in space does not go the way it does on Earth, and can be disrupted by cosmic radiation. In this regard, the European Space Agency (ESA) has developed a new cybersecurity protocol, which is currently being tested at the International Space Station (ISS).

Accidental switching of memory cells under the influence of cosmic radiation sounds unlikely, and in fact it is extremely rare. However, one such incident will be enough to undermine the entire space program.

If at some point due to the effects of cosmic radiation access to satellites is turned off, nothing would be able to fix it.

On large, expensive satellites, such as GPS, or on interplanetary spacecraft, are used specially protected computers, but they are very expensive and heavy.

When it is necessary to minimize costs and free up space, such solutions are not suitable.

Lukas Armborst
Lukas Armborst

“The European Space Agency is testing two interconnected ways to protect computers that are unstable to cosmic radiation. For testing, experts use the Raspberry Pi Zero computer, practically without making any changes to it (with the exception of minor modifications to meet the ISS safety standards)”, — said ESA specialist Lukas Armborst.

The ESA experiment is called the Cryptography International Commercial Experiments Cube (Cryptographic ICE Cube, CryptIC). The first method of protection developed within the framework of CryptIC is a rather traditional approach – embedded key backups. If under the influence of cosmic radiation a random switching of the memory cells occurs and the encryption key becomes unusable, it will be possible to use a spare key.

Read also: Avionics of small planes is vulnerable to attacks with the replacement of telemetry

According to experts, if one such case occurs on a five-year space mission, you need to have 20 backup keys in stock. However, longer missions will require something more reliable. The second method comes to the rescue, which consists in changing the hardware configuration.

According to Armborst, the microprocessor cores in CryptIC are not fixed computer chips, but customizable, programmable gateways.

“These kernels are backups of the same functionality. When one core fails, another can be used, and at that time the failed core will reload its configuration and recover”, — Armborst explained.

In other words, software for encryption will work in parallel with itself, and one part of it will be ready for work and will serve as a template for recovery in case if another core fails due to cosmic radiation.

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About Daniel Zimmermann

Daniel Zimmermann has been writing on security and malware subjects for many years and has been working in the security industry for over 10 years. Daniel was educated at the Saarland University in Saarbrücken, Germany and currently lives in New York.

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