A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket launches carrying an Air Force AEHF-4 satellite from Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, early Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ AP-Malcolm Denemark/Florida Today via AP

Canadian satellites vulnerable to cyberattack, internal Defence note warns

Satellites vital to Canadian military operations are vulnerable to cyberattack or even a direct missile strike.

Satellites vital to Canadian military operations are vulnerable to cyberattack or even a direct missile strike — just one example of why the country’s defence policy must extend fully into the burgeoning space frontier, an internal Defence Department note warns.

The Canadian military already heavily depends on space-based assets for basic tasks such as navigation, positioning, intelligence-gathering, surveillance and communications. Canada is also working on the next generation of satellites to assist with search-and-rescue and round-the-clock surveillance of maritime approaches to the country, including the Arctic.

But those important roles could be endangered as technological advances and lower costs allow more countries, including adversaries, to cause trouble in orbit. Powers such as China and Russia are developing the ability to wage technological attacks in space, the note points out.

“Easier access could also open the door to non-state actors or to failed states with nothing to lose from disrupting space.”

Canada’s new defence policy underscores the importance of space, creating a need for “innovative investment” to ensure National Defence has the tools and know-how to fend off threats, the internal document adds.

A copy of the note, Space Technology Trends: Threats and Opportunities, was recently obtained by The Canadian Press through the Access to Information Act. Several sensitive passages were stripped from the note, prepared last November for the deputy minister of National Defence.

In a statement, the department called the intention to protect and defend military space technology a “very important change” in the new policy.

“What ‘defending and protecting’ these assets means in practice will evolve, as technology and international discussions mature.”

Despite public perception, the militarization of space actually happened decades ago, said Dave Perry, vice-president and senior analyst at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

“Militaries the world over depend on an extraordinary amount of infrastructure that’s space-based, even if there are no physical weapons in space,” he said in an interview. “Space is well-emerged, but we keep calling it emerging.”

Related: Federal Finance Department at risk of big-impact cyberattack, say internal documents

Related: Feds’ unheralded $102B rainy day fund kept for the improbable, like cyberattacks

Even so, the internal note points out space is becoming ever more congested due to the advent of commercial space companies and the dawn of space tourism. ”In addition, more and more nations are becoming space-capable and will expect their share of access to space.”

The most direct threat to Canada’s space capabilities comes from adversaries with the ability to attack satellites, the note bluntly states. China, for example, has demonstrated the ability to destroy one of its aging low-orbit weather satellites with a ballistic missile, creating plenty of space debris.

Other possible tactics include a directed energy attack, electronic jamming or a cyberattack, which can temporarily or permanently disable a satellite, the note adds.

It says Canada is working with the U.S. and other allies on the idea of being able to quickly dispatch replacements for critical space assets that are damaged or destroyed.

As artificial intelligence becomes more prevalent in operating space technology, such as a robotic arm, it will be easier for a hostile player to sabotage it, Perry said.

“If you can figure out a way to affect the software, then that’s a potential vulnerability. Whereas before you would have (needed to fly) someone there, and actually put them on the piece of equipment, to be able to do something.”

High-resolution images of the Earth captured by space satellites, once exclusive to the military, have become increasingly available to other government agencies, companies, the public and hostile players — essentially “whomever is willing to pay,” the note says.

The accessibility of this data and the ability to link it with other sources, such as social media, “will present immense challenges” to privacy and public safety.

As space-based sensing and communication technologies rapidly improve, they become capable of scooping up more information, creating another headache for the military, the note says.

“The challenge of collecting, handling, storing, processing and accessing this data will become more and more severe as the data volume, velocity and variety continues to increase.”

Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Nathan Cullen named Parliamentarian of the Year

Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP won the top-title Nov. 5

VIDEO: Taking to the skies to protect moose in the Cariboo Chilcotin

Conservation Officer Service doubles patrols to oversee moose harvest

New Coast Guard radar boosts marine traffic monitoring off B.C. coast

Six radar installations set up for Georgia Strait to Queen Charlotte Strait to Prince Rupert

Central Coast Regional District swears in new Board of Directors

There are three new faces representing our region and two returning directors

VIDEO: Black horse signals ‘sign of peace’ for Tsilhqot’in Nation

Justin Trudeau rides black horse provided by Cooper family

VIDEO: Two officers of B.C. Legislature escorted out amid investigation

Clerk of the House Craig James, Sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz on administrative leave

Shirtless stranger loomed over couch and started stabbing, bloody B.C. murder trial hears

Colin John pleads not guilty as trial opens in 2016 Chemainus murder case

Late 2019 too long to wait for ridesharing: B.C. Conservatives

“While the rest of the world is embracing this transportation revolution, B.C. is only now staggering slowly toward legislation on a business model that’s been mainstreamed for over a decade in other jurisdictions.”

Police aim to prevent retaliation after Hells Angel found dead under B.C. bridge

IHIT confirms Chad Wilson, 43, was the victim of a ‘targeted’ homicide

ICBC warns shoppers of the high-accident season at mall parking lots

Over 150,000 accidents happened during the holiday season last year

No deal in sight: Canada Post warns of delivery delays into January

Union holds fifth week of rotating strikes as both sides remain apart on contract negotiations

COLUMN: Higher interest rates will slow B.C. economy after ‘unusually robust’ show

Jock Finlayson is executive vice president and chief policy officer of the Business Council of BC

Jason Aldean, Old Dominion to headline Merritt’s Rockin’ River concerts next summer

Four-day music festival at Coldwater River from Aug. 1 to 4

Most Read