Fraud Management & Cybercrime

Foreign Intelligence Entities Eyeing US Space Agencies

China, Russia Are Leading Foreign Intelligence Threats to the US Space Industry
Foreign Intelligence Entities Eyeing US Space Agencies
Image: SpaceX

U.S. intelligence agencies are warning about unnamed foreign intelligence entities targeting the private space sector to steal sensitive data related to satellite payloads and disrupting and degrading US satellite capabilities.

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The FBI, the National Counterintelligence and Security Center and the Air Force Office of Special Investigations on Friday published a two-page advisory warning that the foreign intelligence entities see U.S. space-related innovation and assets as potential threats as well as valuable opportunities to acquire vital technologies and expertise.

"Foreign intelligence entities recognize the importance of the commercial space industry to the U.S. economy and national security, including the growing dependence of critical infrastructure on space-based assets," the agencies said.

A U.S. counterintelligence official told Reuters to expect growing threats to this burgeoning sector of the U.S. economy and that "China and Russia are among the leading foreign intelligence threats to the U.S. space industry."

The U.S. financial sector estimates that the global space economy is projected to grow from $469 billion in 2021 to more than $1 trillion by 2030, the advisory said.

Jeff Hall, principal security consultant and North American aerospace lead at security consultancy NCC Group, told Information Security Media Group the unclassified counterintelligence updates indicate that foreign adversaries are employing a range of techniques, including insider threats, cyber penetration, supply chain attacks and blended operations that combine some or all of these methods.

"They also use legal and quasi-legal methods together with acquisitions, mergers, investments, joint ventures, partnerships and talent recruitment programs to acquire U.S. technology and innovation. Last year, Russia made comments about targeting commercial assets in space, which prompted SpaceX to send StarLink terminals to Ukraine," said Hall, who also served as cyberwarfare engineering branch head at the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division.

DDoS, jamming and overwriting firmware are some of the unique threats facing space companies today, Hall said.

The advisory also said that threat actors are looking to degrade the country's ability to provide critical services during emergencies and to identify vulnerabilities and target U.S. commercial space infrastructure during a conflict.

Among the key concerns highlighted in the advisory is that FIEs are looking to siphon intellectual property and other proprietary data from space firms to benefit foreign powers' national security programs.

This includes "leapfrogging innovation that costs U.S. space firms substantial time and resources to generate and using state-backed resources and unfair business practices to disadvantage U.S. space firms," the advisory said.

The FIEs are also looking to harm U.S. corporate reputations by proliferating counterfeit products or falsely authenticated reproductions.

The agencies warned employees, contractors and suppliers to be aware of the following indicators and other potential signs of FIEs targeting them:

  • Unusually high cyber activity targeting the company from unknown parties;
  • Requests to visit company facilities from unknown or foreign entities;
  • Specific and probing questions about sensitive, internal and proprietary information;
  • Elicitation at conferences or online;
  • Unsolicited offers to establish joint ventures with companies tied to foreign governments or state-owned enterprises;
  • Attempts to recruit the company's technical experts, including through invitations to travel to a foreign country, offers of employment, and provision of financial incentives in exchange for proprietary information.
  • Acquisition or investment efforts by foreign companies via wholly-owned subsidiaries registered in third countries that are designed to obscure the parent company's connections.

About the Author

Prajeet Nair

Prajeet Nair

Assistant Editor, Global News Desk, ISMG

Nair previously worked at TechCircle, IDG, Times Group and other publications, where he reported on developments in enterprise technology, digital transformation and other issues.

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