Surrey Uni and NCC Group Launch Space Infosec Center

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The University of Surrey has teamed up with cybersecurity consultancy NCC Group to create a new hub to research information security threats to satellites.

The new center of excellence will tap resources from the Surrey Space Centre and Surrey Centre for Cyber Security to create “high-impact” research.

It will also use funding from the government-backed NCSC CyberInvest scheme to sponsor a PhD student to focus on the security impact of using commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) components in satellites.

NCC Group’s Transport Assurance practice will help this student’s work and broader attempts to understand the changing nature of the satellite cyber-attack surface, as well as establishing effective remote software patching processes.

According to Surrey University, the industry has relied for a long time on security by obscurity, but now that commercial components and operating systems are being used in such environments, there’s a much larger risk of vulnerabilities being targeted.

“With smallsats and nanosatellites becoming commonplace and the typical launch and regulatory barriers shifting, more commercial missions are being launched in Low Earth Orbit (LEO),” said Surrey Space Centre senior lecturer, Chris Bridges. “Understanding the risks to these important assets and how they are managed is critical for ensuring the security of future infrastructure.”

Andy Davis, Transport Assurance practice director at NCC Group, added that many people don’t realize the crucial role satellites now play in everyday life — including GPS location, weather forecasting and international calls.

“Cybersecurity research in this field is urgently required and establishing this center of excellence will help further increase knowledge about the potential threats facing emerging space assets,” he argued. “With the University of Surrey’s track record of bringing together business and academia, I've no doubt this partnership will be a huge success.”

The university’s expertise in this field is evidenced by Surrey Satellite Technology, a spin-off from the institution now part-owned by Airbus and claiming to be the “world's leading commercial small satellite company.”

It has provided the navigation payload for 22 Galileo satellites currently in service.

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