A Guide to Satellite IoT Network Security

As shown in the chart, the demand for connectivity among consumers and businesses worldwide continues to grow rapidly and shows no signs of slowing down. This increasing interconnectedness has become an attractive target for malicious actors, whether sponsored by states or not, who seek to disrupt and exploit it due to the immense potential gains. It is projected that global cybercrime will cost a staggering $10.5 trillion annually by 2025 (source).

Alongside the proliferation of connected devices and users, another security challenge arises from the push for interoperability in industries and networks, facilitating the movement of data across various networks and geographic boundaries. While this advancement benefits business growth and efficiency, it also creates more opportunities for cyberattacks.

Consequently, there is an urgent need to prioritize data security in Industrial IoT as a crucial strategic consideration for resilience. Hardly anyone feels completely at ease knowing that their data is fully protected. In fact, in 2022, 96% of surveyed business leaders acknowledged the necessity to increase investment in industrial security.

If you find yourself in that category, let’s delve into some of the potential security threats to Industrial IoT and explore the areas that require attention. And for those of you who are already contemplating purchasing a DIY bunker kit from eBay, take a breather. We’ll start with some positive news.


The benefits of reliable Industrial IoT via satellite

In our ever-increasing reliance on IoT for industrial automation and data collection, we often overlook the seamless operation that effective security measures provide. While most data transport for Industrial IoT occurs over cellular or WLAN networks, there are situations where satellite networks come into play, especially in areas without cellular coverage. In this growing market of satellite network providers, Iridium and Inmarsat stand out as reputable and well-established options, offering reliable global coverage and serving as backups for WLAN and cellular networks.

Satellite connectivity plays a vital role in accessing and maintaining remote IoT devices. It ensures a steady flow of data and helps keep people, equipment, vehicles, and machinery secure and under control, even in the most remote and off-grid locations. The rapid growth of Industrial Satellite IoT brings plenty of reasons to celebrate.

However, it’s important to acknowledge that satellite IoT connectivity is not without its security challenges. So, for those of you who haven’t ventured out from your bunker just yet…

Understanding the security risks of satellite Industrial IoT

When it comes to satellite network security, there are potential breach risks at both the service provider and data center levels. These terrestrial entry points can be vulnerable to satellite network jamming, unauthorized network access, communication disruptions, interception of accounts or data, and the compromise of sensitive information.

Another risk factor lies in the possibility of device damage. Sabotage of industrial equipment or IoT devices can have severe consequences for operational technology, production, and manufacturing processes.

According to F5 Labs’ report, “The Hunt for IoT,” IoT devices have become the primary targets for attacks on the internet. If your device is located remotely at sea or in the depths of the Antarctic, the risk of vandalism may be minimal (although it still requires robustness and resilience to withstand harsh conditions). However, regardless of the device’s location, Industrial IoT devices serve as potential entry points for malicious actors seeking to hack into your data or network.

If you’re under the impression that your small business is not a target, it’s essential to reconsider. The 2021 IBM data breach report reveals that the average cost of a data breach for small businesses increased from $2.35 million in 2020 to $2.98 million in 2021, representing a significant 26.8% increase. The risks associated with security breaches are a serious matter regardless of the size of your operation.

Now, let’s explore potential mitigation strategies for these risks.

1. Prepare for human error

Consider instilling a “zero trust, validate first” mindset among your employees in addition to a robust risk assessment. However, implementing this mindset can pose challenges. The more agile an organization is, the greater the tendency for risk-taking, which can potentially lead to vulnerabilities and attacks. It’s important to strike a balance between vigilance and allowing the workforce to exercise their initiative and innate talents without excessive consequences.

The unique challenges faced in maritime IoT are explored in the Lloyd’s Register Foundation ‘Foresight review.’ Engineers on ships, accustomed to a high degree of independence and relying on resourcefulness to solve problems, may not necessarily possess a security mindset. They might optimize a network for speed by installing a patch that compromises security segregation, for example. This challenge is further compounded by the fact that ships can pick up spare parts and new crew members from anywhere in the world.

However, the reality is that the rapid pace of change in IIoT is matched by an equal momentum for malicious activities. The greatest risk lies in the possibility of human error allowing unauthorized access. By assuming that a breach is inevitable, organizations can gain a competitive advantage through resilience planning, swift recovery, and containing the extent of damage within the organization, or at the very least, minimizing losses.

2. Determine the boundaries of your cyber-security accountability

Consider the interconnected nature of your business and the dependencies that exist within your supply chain. Where there is interdependence, complexity arises, and it becomes challenging to establish clear ownership of risks and accountability for resolving issues. It’s crucial to have these difficult conversations upfront and clarify ownership, whether it’s shared or clearly defined, before a breach occurs. Attempting to determine accountability after damage has been done can be a complicated and costly process.

An informative article from our partner, Thales, outlines the global regulations governing IoT. It provides clarity on compliance requirements and mandatory actions that legally govern Europe/UK and the US, ensuring that connected devices are more resilient to threats and attacks while protecting key data. The article also highlights the evolving consequences for parties that fail to take responsibility.

At Ground Control, we hold ISO 27001 and Cyber Essentials certifications, which are internationally recognized standards that assist businesses in protecting their data and programs from cyber attacks. These certifications demonstrate our investment in processes and behaviors that offer credibility and trust to both customers and potential partners involved in the development of Industrial IoT solutions.

3. Select a security-focused satellite network

When choosing a satellite network for your Industrial IoT needs, it’s important to prioritize security. Satellite network operators, the companies responsible for the satellites and ground stations, understand the significance of data protection. By default, satellite data traffic is relatively secure and meets most military and government security standards. However, implementing robust network access control further mitigates risks, particularly in the transfer of data from ground stations to customers’ servers.

At Ground Control, we’ve developed our own custom-built delivery network specifically designed for handling Iridium and Inmarsat traffic. This allows us to maintain complete control over our certified, cutting-edge data paths while securely delivering traffic. Our motivation for building this network was to provide additional security for our customers’ data. We offer optional public static IPs and fully configurable firewalls to ensure the secure movement of your data from point A to point B.

Our network at Ground Control provides tiered options for data security, offering a choice based on the level of investment and desired autonomy:

  • Mid Level: Customers can encrypt their data and transmit it over a satellite link, decrypting it upon arrival. It’s also possible to establish a VPN (Virtual Private Network) over the satellite link, although this may introduce some latency and overhead.
  • High Level: Ground Control can set up a VPN directly from our data center to a customer’s server, creating a secure virtual tunnel that prevents unauthorized access from outside the VPN. This private VPN setup can help reduce costs as public static IPs are no longer required.
  • Highest Level: Ground Control’s SCADASat service provides a fully private and secure network, with customers allocated their own dedicated frequency on the space segment. This is an extremely secure solution with relatively low operational expenditure (OPEX) costs.

For Inmarsat and Iridium traffic, Ground Control can also explore the installation of an MPLS (Multi-Protocol Label Switching) or Leased-Line, offering a private network solution.

We recommend consulting with your network operator to understand the security precautions they have in place to protect your data. If you’re interested in learning more about how satellite network operators like Iridium and Inmarsat ensure data safety and security, you can find additional information on their respective websites:

  • Iridium – https://www.iridium.com/markets/defense-intelligence-national-security/
  • Inmarsat – https://www.inmarsat.com/en/solutions-services/maritime/solutions/cyber-security.html

To delve deeper into managing your own network securely, we invite you to explore our blog, which provides insights into various network security measures.

4. Protect access to your data

When it comes to satellite IoT devices, encryption plays a vital role in safeguarding sensitive data transmitted between the device and the satellite network. At Ground Control, we offer the option to use AES-256 encryption for Short Burst Data (SBD) payloads. It’s important to note that encryption increases the data volume by 16 bytes for each transmission due to the inclusion of an initialization vector. As a result, there may be a slight incremental increase in network costs for data transfer. The actual rates will depend on the specific network being used, so consider this when estimating data transfer costs.

Data encryption, combined with the unique characteristics of satellite network activity such as large and constantly changing Doppler shifts, frequent inter-beam and inter-SV handoffs, TDMA burst mode channels, and complex modulation, interleaving, and encoding, significantly limits opportunities for eavesdropping on satellite communication.

In addition to encryption, implementing security protocols like SSL/TLS, IPSec, and DTLS adds an extra layer of protection for data in transit, helping to prevent interception and tampering.

Regarding local network architecture, it is advisable to segment assets and incorporate deliberate fire-breaks to minimize the impact radius in the event of a successful cyber attack. Regularly backing up critical system data and routine monitoring of connections are important considerations in the design of IIoT infrastructure. It is also crucial to understand the normal network activity patterns of your employees and site, enabling you to identify anomalies, detect unusual behavior patterns, and investigate any deviations from established routines or unrecognized connections. These practices contribute to reducing risks and potential system infiltrations.

5. Keep device(s) protected

When choosing satellite hardware or components, prioritize those that are designed with built-in security features that meet industry standards. Look for devices with encryption capabilities, secure boot processes, and integrated security features like firewalls.

Consider devices like the RockREMOTE and RockREMOTE Rugged, which includes an encryption feature set in its operating system. Activating this feature helps protect data transmitted to and from the satellite or cellular network. Additionally, opt for devices that are compact and discreet, attracting less attention when positioned or accompanied by antennas.

It’s equally important to be aware of the vulnerabilities of end-point devices such as sensors and cameras, along with their underlying hardware and software. Outdated components, unpatched software, insecure default settings, or weak network connections can make these devices susceptible to attacks.

Implementing access controls is crucial for monitoring device behavior and preventing unauthorized activity. Control and monitor access to the device’s firmware, configuration, and other sensitive information. This can be achieved through measures such as using strong passwords, implementing multi-factor authentication, and limiting access to authorized personnel only.

We recommend establishing a configuration management process to ensure that changes to device settings or firmware are authorized, properly documented, and regularly assessed for vulnerabilities. If possible, automate or handle these processes remotely to improve operational efficiency.

Ground Control simplifies this process for customers through the Cloudloop Device Manager (CDM), which is a feature within the Cloudloop ecosystem that also offers subscription and data management tools.

CDM allows customers to remotely access, monitor, troubleshoot, and manage the functionality of their device(s). This includes handling device firmware and patch updates, monitoring usage, and maintaining the connection.

With CDM, customers gain real-time visibility into issues affecting devices deployed in remote, hard-to-reach, or physically hazardous locations. It’s user-friendly and can be accessed via a laptop or any connected device, providing convenience and peace of mind whether you’re working from home, a bunker, or an office. The Cloudloop platform offers simplicity and ease of use.

In the rapidly evolving landscape of cybersecurity, keeping up with the pace and rate of change can be challenging. Securing IIoT infrastructure is a complex task for companies, and finding the right expertise to support your goals can be daunting.

Cloudloop Device Manager overview

Talk to a satellite IoT security expert

With over 15 years of experience in developing secure Satellite IIoT products and network connectivity, Ground Control is well-equipped to assist you in securing your plans, regardless of their scale.

You can reach out to us through our online form, or simply give us a call or send us an email. Our technical support team will be delighted to offer impartial and expert advice on satellite IoT security specific to your application. We understand the unique challenges and considerations involved in securing satellite IoT, and we're here to support you every step of the way.
Call or Email Us