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Unlocking the potential of space entrepreneurship by embedding cyber resilience

By Sharon Lemac-Vincere - Posted on 24 January 2024

With space now 'open to all', Dr Sharon Lemac-Vincere, Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship, takes a look at space entrepreneurship and cyber security - as well as the outlook for Scotland in this sector.

The 21st century has witnessed a remarkable shift in the space industry. No longer limited to government agencies, space exploration and commercialisation have become accessible to private enterprises. Visionary entrepreneurs like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson have revolutionised the sector, sparking innovation and investment. And space entrepreneurship is poised to reshape our understanding of the space sector and redefine our place within it. 

Today, the message from the UK government is that space is open for all: where entrepreneurs can make their mark, unlock their potential, use emerging technology to transcend the ordinary and redefine what is possible. This also means a shift change in how we work together to think differently about how we solve some of the most challenging problems we face in contemporary life. It is now possible to imagine a future where dreams are not just dreams, but tangible realities waiting to be explored and realised; where innovation and human imagination knows no bounds. It really is an exciting, inspiring, and captivating sector to be working in as we start 2024. 

And just as the possibilities are limitless, they also come with their own set of challenges. As the global commercial space sector grows, it becomes increasingly clear that cybersecurity must be at the forefront of our entrepreneurial endeavours from the very beginning. The interconnectedness of space systems, satellites, and ground infrastructure creates vulnerabilities that malicious actors may, and do, exploit. Cyberattacks targeting space assets have already taken place and these attacks have severe consequences - from disrupting communication networks to compromising national security and geo-political relations. 

And although cyber-attacks are not a new space threat, cyber capabilities and resilience in the space sector has only recently begun to attract international attention. In 2023, the US launched a consultation on their proposed Hybrid Satellite Network framework. Germany launched technical guidelines for satellite security, and the European Space Agency (ESA) increased its focus on cyber security and resilience launching a ‘Space Shield’ tool to collect adversary tactics and techniques to develop an evidence base of attack types to enable ESA to strengthen its security actions. The Scottish Government identified cyber security as a critical enabler of space sector growth. Meanwhile, at the tail end of 2023, the Italian Government established a ‘Space Cyber Security Operation Centre’ in response to security concerns linked to the rapid developments in space sector. And only days into 2024, commentators claimed that space cybersecurity in the Americas (Latin America and Caribbean) could no longer be overlooked. In each instance, there has been a consistent call for international collaboration and standards, but as yet there is no global space cybersecurity framework or mandates for embedded ‘secure-by-design’ principles. And as the focus turns to cyber security in the space sector, it does so at a time when internationally there is a global shortage of skilled cyber security experts (currently estimated as, at least, 3.5 million). 

So, what does this mean for Scotland? Well, over the last few years I have consistently argued that the UK - and more specifically Scotland - has a real opportunity to lead in this area due to Scotland's global reputation in the satellite market. I believe that there is an opportunity for Scotland to create the gold standard for ‘secure-by-design’ cyber security resilience in space. This could, in effect, create a competitive advantage for the Scottish space sector and our entrepreneurs and, simultaneously, create a skilled workforce in the dual emerging domain of space and cyber: addressing skills shortages in both sectors. By prioritising cybersecurity from the outset, we can build an entrepreneurial foundation that can withstand cyber threats, adapt to evolving risks, and recover swiftly from any incidents. 

Although I believe Scotland can lead on this work, I do think to address the cybersecurity challenges in space effectively will require collaboration, knowledge sharing and diplomacy. Therefore, Governments, private enterprises, academia, and cybersecurity experts will need to come together to establish comprehensive frameworks, share best practices, and develop cutting-edge technologies. Only by fostering a collaborative ecosystem can we collectively stay ahead of cyber threats, exchange valuable insights, and ensure the long-term security and sustainability of our space entrepreneurial endeavours is fully realised. 


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