The US Space Force is gearing up for a significant shift in its cybersecurity capabilities with the upcoming launch of its Digital Bloodhound program. This initiative focuses on enhancing the detection of cyber threats targeted explicitly toward ground facilities such as satellite command-and-control stations. 

Under the Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC), this Space Force initiative is a part of the Defense Cyber Operations–Space (DCO-S) program.

Digital Bloodhound uses advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) algorithms to analyze data from various sources, such as radar and optical sensors, to identify and track objects in space. The tool is designed to help the Space Force manage increasing space debris and reduce the risk of collisions with satellites and other objects.

With a contract award expected later this year, Space Force is seeking a substantial $76 million in its fiscal 2024 budget request for the program, an increase from the previous $28 million budget in FY23,  highlighting the critical importance of guarding networks associated with space operations. 

Space Force’s focus on cybersecurity around space operations is evident, having asked for an additional $43 million in its FY24 “unfunded priorities” list. 

During a recent House defense appropriations hearing, Chief of Space Operations, General Chance Saltzman, explained Space Force’s request for a $30B budget, underscoring the importance of guarding networks associated with space operations to ensure the country’s national security. 

 “This budget request is designed to deliver the forces, personnel, and partnerships the Space Force  requires to preserve U.S. advantages in space … But only if the Congress passes timely appropriations.”

A Closer Look at Digital Bloodhound

Digital Bloodhound is a new initiative under the Space Force’s DCO-S program.

Under Space Force’s DCO-S program, Digital Bloodhound primarily focuses on cyber attacks against ground facilities such as satellite command-and-control stations. 

Digital Bloodhound provides another layer of defense against potential cyber threats from hostile countries or other malicious actors, designed to detect any suspicious activity in advance, allowing for prompt remediation actions before any damage can be done. This innovative technology will help protect US-operated satellites from being hacked and their information stolen or destroyed and prevent access to valuable government data stored in space-based systems.

The program enables enhanced detection of cyber threats and better protection of space assets through advanced analytics capabilities that evaluate the data gathered from multiple sources within various networks and systems connected to space assets. This new system could also identify malicious actors attempting to interfere with communications or navigation systems used by US forces deployed overseas or those monitoring domestic airspace. 

With malicious activity,  the program will help identify this quickly by analyzing data from various sources within a network to detect cyber threats before they become more serious. This information can then be used to take steps to protect systems from further damage or disruption before it’s too late.

Apart from its ability to detect hackers trying to steal sensitive information from government agencies or corporations that rely on satellites for communication and other services, the system can also be used as an early warning system for internal issues, such as software bugs or malfunctions that may occur during operation. 

By detecting these issues before they cause severe damage, Digital Bloodhound can save money and resources compared to dealing with a full-blown crisis after it has already happened.

Cyber threats are accurately detected swiftly using advanced software tools and data analytics methods. These solutions can spot anomalies in network traffic that indicates malicious activity attempting to access a system or facility. This system can detect changes in user behavior that could indicate malicious intent or suspicious activity and see known indicators of compromise, which are pieces of evidence that signify malicious activity within a network or facility. 

Space Force, however, is already working with multiple vendors on developing technology that would be used in the Digital Bloodhound program, such as artificial intelligence algorithms that can process large amounts of data quickly and accurately identify potential threats without human intervention. Additionally, they are looking into integrating tools such as firewalls and intrusion detection systems into the overall system architecture so that all components can work together seamlessly to protect against cyber attacks.

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The DCO-S program also includes other initiatives such as the Joint Interagency Combined Space Operations Center (JICSpOC), which multiple government agencies will use for collaboration on space operations activities; the Enterprise Ground Services Network (EGSN), which will provide secure communications between ground stations; and the Aerospace Data Facility (ADF), which will facilitate data sharing among partners within the DoD space enterprise.

Crucial Steps In Cybersecurity

At the recently-concluded Space Systems Cybersecurity Executive Forum (March 28) hosted by the Office of the National Cyber Director and the National Space Council, participants discussed recommendations on existing space systems issues, including the  Space Policy Directive-5, “Cybersecurity Principles for Space Systems,” to mitigate cybersecurity vulnerabilities and address cyber threats.”

Attendees discussed recommendations to build on existing policy, including Space Policy Directive-5, “Cybersecurity Principles for Space Systems,” to mitigate cybersecurity vulnerabilities and address cyber threats.

In the current threat environment, attending government officials said that developers and operators of government and commercial space systems need clear, detailed instructions on improving their space systems’ security in a way that can be measured. The officials pointed out that the new National Cybersecurity Strategy lays out a positive vision for building a digital and space systems ecosystem that is more inherently defensible, resilient, and aligned with US values, which applies equally to the space systems ecosystem. All participants emphasized the importance and urgency of executive-level attention on shoring up the resilience of US space systems through increased investments in cybersecurity.”

For its part, Space Force clarified that their “Digital Bloodhound” is part of the broader Defense Cyber Operations–Space (DCO-S) program, which is focused on safeguarding networks associated with space operations against cyber threats. The program will use predictive analytics and machine learning algorithms to detect malicious activity before it can cause damage. One of the program’s main goals is to identify cyber attackers quickly and accurately so that their actions can be blocked or contained before they do any harm.

Digital Bloodhound also plans to provide cyber security services for other systems related to space operations, such as communication networks and navigation systems. Doing so will help ensure that these systems remain secure and reliable.

Space Development Agency Concerns On Growing Cybersecurity Threats

Space Development Agency Director Derek Tournear spoke at the Navy League’s annual Sea-Air-Space Conference recently, expressing concern about the proliferation of cybersecurity threats and looming terrestrial attacks in the country. 

“Common mode failures [such as cyber attacks] can take out all your satellites from the ground systems, then you can’t increase your way out of that—so that’s a major concern. We have a lot of protections in place, and that’s something that we put a lot of resources on to make sure that we’re hardened against cyber threats.”

In earlier statements, Tournear mentioned that cyber and supply chain threats to the National Defense Space Architecture’s (NDSA) Transport Layer are more dangerous than ground-based direct ascent anti-satellite (DA-ASAT) laser weapons.

According to SDA, the NDSA will be an optically connected Internet in space, giving military forces tactical data like low-latency communications and information about where to shoot. 

SDA contends that the projected hundreds of low-cost Transport Layer satellites, each of which will cost less than $14 million, will help stop DA-ASAT attacks and that the satellites’ 1,000-kilometer-high polar orbit will help protect them from attacks from the ground.

“Cyber and supply chain are two of the threats that I’m concerned about … (These) are common mode failures, so it doesn’t matter if I have one satellite or a thousand satellites, those [problems] may have the ability to take them all out. So those are the threats that I’m most focused on because those are the ones that I think can have the biggest, devastating effect, whereas the other threats, I actually think proliferation [of satellites] gives us significant advantages.”

“In fact, I would go so far as to say that [for] Tranche 1 and beyond, it will cost more to shoot down a satellite than the satellite cost to actually put up there and operate, so we’ve completely changed the equation on that.”