The New Star Wars: Space & Cyber Security

The development of technology and the advancements in warfare have shown throughout history that the nations who create the most efficient and deadliest weaponry are the most successful in battle. In the book “Ways of War”, it is stated that both the space and cyber domains have only come about within the last 50 years with relatively few key actors involved. However, these two fields have evolved into a major threat. Policies created to control these domains in the past are no longer relevant as the technology has greatly surpassed them (“Ways of War: American Military History from the Colonial Era to the Twenty-First Century” Muehlbauer 2013). Space and cyber technology is part of every day life, making it a major global security issue. The technology that allows for individuals to use GPS, ATMs, smart phones, and other simple devices also creates a hyper awareness for the military with early warning systems and autonomous weapons. Whereas space exploitation and exploration is often an expensive state controlled and funded project, cyber is accessible to all, and inexpensive to acquire (George Marshall Institute 2015).


With this advancement comes the dark side of cyber espionage and the hacking of satellites. Hacking is easy and anonymous; programs used are legal and available, and the security to protect from such invasions and attacks is limited. From phishing to transmittable USB drives; individuals, groups and governments are able to acquire sensitive data from both the public and private sectors. Unfortunately catching those perpetrating the act is difficult, if not impossible since you do not have to be present at the crime scene and tracing through “cyber space” is extremely difficult. The 2015 Panel on Cyber and Space Security hosted by the Marshall Institute discussed how inducing public fear and building on the “war of terror” ideology would allow for more security protocols to be put into place. Through education and training, employees become aware of threats, and obtain skills to prevent the hacking incidents that possibly could put the nation at risk (George Marshall Institute 2015). If there is a shared responsibility to protect data, a more resilient system can be built. Cyber and Space Warfare have become a domain of their own, just as land, sea, and air are. They are interconnected with the other domains, and often act as the first steps to physical interventions and attacks. The fact that the cyber world is accessible to anyone, and there are unlimited targets and objectives, it is increasingly becoming more difficult to protect oneself. There are few and inconsistent regulatory standards, and the lack of technical knowledge amongst the general populace has led to mass fear and uncertainty. The dated standards are no longer able to regulate the universal terminology or regulations necessary to level the playing field.

Unlike rules surrounding chemical or biological warfare, there are none related to cyber warfare, creating considerable risk for all parties. Iraq was successful in hacking American drones, not only gaining control over them, but also extracting valuable data. If they were capable of hacking a few American drones, is it not possible for someone else to hack a satellite which could potentially put many lives at risk? It is clear not enough is being done to protect society from the dangers of cyber and space security. A lack of updated policy or standards could result in increasing threats coming from powerful nations such as China, Russia and Iran. In “Ways of War”, the author says the United States is deterring threatening activities and mitigating counter space threats, but what do they consider threatening and why are they the ones defining it? The United States, it could be said, have expanded their title as “world police” to now include both the space and cyber worlds (“Ways of War: American Military History from the Colonial Era to the Twenty-First Century” Muehlbauer 2013).


In 1967, some steps were taken in order to protect states as well as space from weapons of mass destruction, sovereignty issues, and establishing military fortifications. The focus of the Outer Space Treaty was on maintaining space as a safe and shared domain, although the treaty said nothing of conventional weapons. As of September 2015, there were 104 signatures. However there have been no revisions to include the cyber domain and the threats that face space in other ways that weapons of mass destruction do not. It is easy to see it was created during the Cold War period; however, it is not preventing many of the threats some states face today. With the advancements in technology, the treaty has become outdated and filled with loopholes that allow for many acts of terrorism to go without reprimand. The Budapest Convention, adopted in 2001 is in need of many updates to remain relevant with the advancement of technology. The agreement covers individual Internet crimes such as copyright infringements and child pornography; it is not intended to fight the war on terror within the cyber realm (UNODA 2015).

There is a need for a major modernization of the pre-existing treaty already in place, or a new treaty created in order to better monitor and control all activity in both the cyber and space realms. The most vulnerable point of many states is their satellites and computer data. Both can be hacked and rendered useless or have sensitive information stolen. As previously stated, many activities in our daily lives and within our urban infrastructures are dependent on satellites. With most of the threats being towards the blocking of satellites, either an updated or new agreement should include protection for all state owned equipment in space and implement new laws to better prevent cyber espionage. Sasakawa Peace Foundation has held two meetings recently in order to discuss security measures to prevent blocking of satellite signals. Their main concern is the tactical advantage during conflict that could be achieved through disarming the opposing force’s satellite. Like the deterrent doctrine of mutual assured destruction it seems they are more concerned with an even playing field in war versus the other problems that a blocked satellite could cause (Sasakawa Peace Foundation 2013).


A paper released by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) identified many problems within the nuclear, space and cyber domains. The United States is attempting to develop a strategic plan that would apply to 21st century technology. With many adversaries such as Russia, India, and China refusing to cooperate in the creation of a universal strategy, the United States is hindered in its own advancements. The CSIS publication brings attention to how interlinked nuclear, cyber and space domains are, and how vital it is for a doctrine to be written which will address all three. Though the Obama Administration has taken great strides to create a unified policy, it will not be enough if not recognized and endorsed by the United Nations, and is signed and ratified by all the key actors in both the space and cyber world. The United Nations needs to recognize space and cyber as areas of possible conflict and apply the same rules as they do to land, air and sea (Wood 2015).

Through the development of either an all-encompassing policy or major updates on the existing ones, there can be a safer and more universally understood agreement. Rather than dated and divided treaties and conventions, the United Nations needs to create a treaty for all to adhere to that can better provide a more secure world and prevent threats and acts of terror in the future. Recognizing cyber and space as domains of the new arena of warfare will establish protocols establishing the expectations placed upon states in their response to threats or attacks. It is imperative that these areas also be regulated. Conflicts occurring through cyber espionage and satellite hacking will impact other domains of war such as land, sea or air. The Geneva Protocol and the Hague Convention regulated the development, use and possession of weapons of mass destruction. It is time that we similarly recognize the cyber and space domains at a real and dangerous threat. Thus far, due to the loopholes and inaccuracies in policies, lives and valuable data essential to the operation of our societies have been put at risk. Hacking a system in order to gain information, taking control of a drone in Iraq, and threatening to block satellite signals should all be considered acts of aggression and war and steps need to be taken by states in order to better protect themselves and prevent these occurrences. As genocide and weapons of mass destruction are seen as crimes against humanities, so should acts against the security of space and cyber space.



Blog Mary

Mary Crawford is a Master’s Student in Cohort 4 of the Master of Development Practice program. Mary’s background is in global studies and classical and near-east archeology. Her current research interests include sustainable development, disarmament, animal rights, archaeology, history, and global arms trade.


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