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Protecting critical infrastructure from physical and cyber attack

Government, commerce and ultimately citizens, rely on critical infrastructure for everything from monitoring natural hazards to food transportation. Any system breakdown could have catastrophic consequences; SCOUT offers a solution to help avoid this ever happening.
Protecting critical infrastructure from physical and cyber attack
Critical infrastructure enables the running of our society and economy. It underpins all sectors including key government services, transport and distribution, energy, utilities, banking and finance, health care and communications.

Space control ground stations play critical roles in enabling the services and assets of government and civil authorities, to run reliably. These stations provide satellite communications, global navigation systems and Earth Observation (EO) for territorial surveillance, along with remote sensing for environmental monitoring. This means that their protection against malfunction or attack – physical or cyber – is of paramount importance.

The EU-funded SCOUT project designed, developed and tested a protection system for interconnected space control ground stations against physical and cyber attacks. The system was based on risk assessments, blending multiple technologies and run from an artificial intelligence-based control. With modifications, the modular and scalable system, can meet the necessary criteria for the protection of any kind of infrastructure.

A modular concept and architecture

All of the assets necessary to operate space control ground stations services (software and hardware) are routinely subjected to numerous internal and external events that could damage or destroy their functions. In order to protect these stations, and their satellite links, against physical and cyber attacks, the SCOUT team utilised multiple innovative and low impact technologies. It also enabled the intelligent reconfiguration of the ground station network, in the event that one or more nodes fail. A hallmark of the system is its ability to detect and classify threats, building up a database which can feed back into risk assessments.

The SCOUT consortium adopted a modular architecture bringing together various subsystems: SENSNET for physical attack protection, CYBERSENS for cyber-attack detection, RECOVER for automatic reconfiguration of the network and the Main Control Unit (MCU) in charge of processing and collecting all the available information to establish situational awareness. The subsystems are able to communicate with each other via a dedicated interface. Additionally, the SCOUT system encompasses a management tool which drives the system and supports decision making.

Explaining the advantages of the modular architecture the project’s technical coordinator Dr Amerigo Capria says, “It offers distributed collaboration, easier system management and maintenance, with increased flexibility and adaptivity. It can also be customised with configuration changes responding to different needs.”

The system detects anomalies which may present a system threat. In terms of physical threats, the SENSNET subsystem can monitor the behaviour of moving objects inside and outside facilities, differentiating between humans and vehicles, such as cars and small Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). Regarding cyber-attacks, the system can limit and mitigate the effects of Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS), malware contamination and Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs).

The SCOUT system’s capabilities and performance were successfully tested over two weeks last year at the Spatial Geodesy Centre of the Italian Space Agency (ASI CGS), where it protected a specific area of ASI infrastructure.

Critical adaptability for a range of infrastructures

Protection against destruction to space control ground stations is vital for national security and public safety, owing to the severity of the consequences of these attacks, which includes economic destabilisation, material destruction, and ultimately loss of life. By helping to assure the global communication, EO and navigation capability of this key infrastructure, the SCOUT system shields citizens from natural and man-made disasters, improves public security and helps prevent criminal offences.

Aside from its technical accomplishments, Dr Capria points out that, “The SCOUT system was developed in compliance with the prevailing legal framework - comprising privacy and data protection regulations, relevant security policies. It was also guided by responsible research ethics.”

As SCOUT’s objective was to develop a proof-of-concept demonstrator, taking the work forward will mean increasing the maturity of the technologies, alongside securing further investment for a commercial product. As project coordinator Prof. Fabrizio Berizzi enthuses, “The modularity of the demonstrator means that it can be exploited for several kinds of critical infrastructures with very small modifications, especially those for perimeter surveillance, physical security, cybersecurity and mitigation systems.”

Subjects

Safety

Keywords

SCOUT, security, critical infrastructure, cyber attack, space control ground station, protection, satellite communications, global navigation systems, Earth Observation, telecommunications, surveillance, localisation
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