Trust Key to Space Travel, Like Cybersecurity, Says Astronaut Tim Peake

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Astronaut Tim Peake emphasized the importance of trust in space travel and highlighted a number of principles in his field that can be applied to cybersecurity, during a recent talk at the Okta Forum 2022 event in London, UK.

Peake described several perilous situations he has experienced in his career working in space, including a colleague nearly drowning while out on a spacewalk due to leakage caused by a broken fan pump separator. Preventing such scenarios from turning into a catastrophe requires quick and decisive action. “It’s one of those moments where you have to step up to the plate, where good teamwork, decision-making and leadership can make the difference literally between life or death,” he outlined.

The need for a similar approach can be seen in cyber-incident response – fast and decisive actions to limit the damage caused by a successful cyber-attack and ensure a full recovery.

Peake emphasized that dealing with unexpected incidents “is more than quick thinking, it’s about trust. We need trust in our people, our preparation and our plan.”

Similarly, trust is becoming an increasingly important component in data security and privacy, with consumers increasingly conscious of organizations holding their personal data and the growing threat of data breaches. Therefore, gaining people’s trust in how they collect, use and protect personal data is becoming critical to the success of businesses.

Trust in Preparation

Training for a space mission takes around four years, explained Peake. This begins by learning to fly a spacecraft in a simulator, enabling mistakes to be made and all possible scenarios experienced. “Failure is the best teacher,” he commented, adding: “by the end of our training, there’s very little that we’re not prepared for.” A similar approach is taken to learning how to spacewalk underwater.

The ability to learn from mistakes and practice different scenarios over and again in a controlled environment is also an approach that should be considered for cybersecurity professionals who face evolving and unpredictable cyber-threats.

Trust in People

Building trust with colleagues in a confined environment is crucial, according to Peake. “Space is not the place to have a clash of personalities. Soft skills have to be developed like teamwork, leadership and communication.”

He explained that prospective Astronauts are often put in caves together, where they experience significant physical and psychological stress. “If you want to understand somebody’s true personality and character, make them cold, wet, tired and hungry!” he said. This creates the perfect environment to build trust as a team and “get to know how to help each other when you see that they’re struggling.”

While training for cybersecurity professionals may not go to such extreme lengths, trust and teamwork are also critical components of security departments, especially those commonly dealing with stressful cyber incidents. Incident response also generally requires coordination between different staff and departments.

Trust in the Plan

Peake noted that “the only reason the space station operates so flawlessly is that we have an incredible planning team.” This involves “an overarching strategy, backed up by clear operational procedures and then a detailed plan.” This includes meticulously setting out the daily schedule of each astronaut due to the vast amount of activities they need to undertake while on the international space station. This even includes establishing the times they sleep and eat.

This principle can also be applied to cybersecurity teams, where clear processes are needed to deal with cyber incidents and proactively identify threats when they arise. Carefully managing the schedules of often overworked security staff is another lesson that could be taken from Peake’s experiences.

Plan for Contingency

Finally, Peake emphasized that there must be a plan for when things go wrong. For example, depressurization is always a potential problem in space. “As astronauts, we adopt a mindset that you might think is a bit pessimistic, but we almost expect it to happen,” he explained. This mindset is vital in cybersecurity, where unforeseen incidents and new types of attacks always have the potential to occur.

Peake concluded his talk by considering the future of space travel, such as going to Mars. “There will be many challenges to come. But trust in the people around you, the preparation and the plan, and anything is possible.”

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