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SpiderOak wins second Air Force contract for secure space communications

Written by  Tuesday, 14 September 2021 11:33
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Washington DC (SPX) Sep 13, 2021
The U.S. Air Force has approved an approximately $750,000 Small Business Innovation Research grant to SpiderOak to test its new OrbitSecure secure communications protocol on military satellites and ground stations. The outcome will enable government agencies to leverage commercial space assets for federal missions in emerging hybrid space architectures that mix commercial and government satellit

The U.S. Air Force has approved an approximately $750,000 Small Business Innovation Research grant to SpiderOak to test its new OrbitSecure secure communications protocol on military satellites and ground stations. The outcome will enable government agencies to leverage commercial space assets for federal missions in emerging hybrid space architectures that mix commercial and government satellites.

The grant will facilitate SpiderOak's adaptation of its OrbitSecure commercial technology to new uses that are of importance to those who rely on satellites, including military and intelligence operators. This grant is a successor to a previous Air Force allotment that allowed SpiderOak to begin to demonstrate its OrbitSecure technology to various users in the Defense Department. This is yet another indication of SpiderOak's commitment to bring zero-trust solutions to space environments and comes on the heels of the company's addition of aerospace and small-satellite expert Phil Eichensehr to its federal advisory board.

In the current phase, SpiderOak will be required to demonstrate security enhancements in ephemeral key creation, key rotation, and key assignment via a "Dynamic Authority" that will create and distribute thousands of unique cryptographic keys to a specific user or satellite time, pass, or action. This innovation will help fulfil a need of the Armed Services for zero-trust software to create secure cryptographic communication channels in an ephemeral manner.

"Cyber-attacks on intelligence collection, communications, financial transactions, weather, navigation, early warning systems are just the tip of the threat iceberg facing players in this new space race," stated Steve Nixon, President of the SmallSat Alliance, "Leveraging commercial security capabilities such as SpiderOak will help the government accelerate deployment, achieve repeatable deadlines and help bring new levels of security and resilience to our space infrastructure."

Common approaches to key management usually lead to violations of temporal authority restrictions. For example, a ground station that is given a key to communicate with a satellite for one pass can use the key to communicate with the satellite on subsequent passes even if it was not commanded to do so. SpiderOak prevents this from happening through the utilization of agile re-keying that allows each key to remain valid for only a single pass (or access within a pass), preventing the use of a key outside of its intended scope.

Dave Pearah, CEO of SpiderOak, remarked: "Our success in winning this grant and moving to this new, higher level of investment, is a testament to our OrbitSecure commercial space products and their applicability to government uses." He added, "We have crossed an important hurdle in our space software development, and our success with this contract will open many opportunities for the company while getting the military what it needs to exploit the emerging reality of a hybrid space architecture. Furthermore, this technology can work in any environment and has applications beyond space."

Until recently, the traditional approach to operating spacecraft involved a single party operating the craft, the payload, and its ground network. This vertical integration allowed for the information security of the spacecraft to be built around the trust within an organization.

Radical increases in the number and uses of satellites are ushering in an era where operators are now using third-party ground stations, splitting the roles of spacecraft, and even sharing payload operators with other entities. In this hybrid, multi-party environment, security can no longer be based on trust. Updated communications software is crucial.

The OrbitSecure space protocol provides a strong assurance of the authority, identity, integrity, and confidentiality of the space architecture data and systems to which it is entrusted. Furthermore, our product can integrate with both legacy systems in space, and new systems that are yet to launch.


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Read the latest in Military Space Communications Technology at SpaceWar.com

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