© ISS
The view of a storm from the International Space Station, which is responsible for the lives of a number of people and could be vulnerable to cyber security attacks.
The world is unprepared for how vulnerable it is to attack from the skies, argues a major new paper from Chatham House

The world is dangerously unprepared for a global disaster sparked by cyber attacks on space infrastructure, experts have warned.

Authorities are not doing nearly enough to stop space assets being hacked and used maliciously, according to a warning from security experts. The consequences of such a hack could be disastrous - anything from damage to trade and financial services to terrorists taking over strategic weapons.

Much of the world's infrastructure is dependent on space machinery - almost every important business or technology on the ground is powered by space assets. And while governments have done a great deal in looking to secure those technologies on Earth, they could easily be threatened from space.

Those weaknesses could be exploited by people and groups including states, criminal syndicates, terrorists and hackers to create a potential global catastrophe on Earth, according to a new report from Chatham House.

The think tank suggested that authorities should commit to a "radical review" of cyber security in space. There's currently no global organisation looking at the issue and the situation may advance so quickly that governments soon won't be able to do anything about it, argued Dr Patricia Lewis, director of the international security department at Chatham House, and her co-author David Livingstone, an associate fellow at the institute.

That is because space is quickly becoming somewhere that isn't dominated just by a few privileged countries. Instead, it is becoming a domain "ruled by market forces", and this is likely to intensify in future.

As such, the authors fear that isolated governments could do little about any specific cyber threat, and that countries must work together to respond to them.

That shouldn't be done by regulation, which can tend to be slow, the authors said. Instead the world should develop a flexible new cyber security regime that can allow space companies to work together across the world and stop attacks on infrastructure.

The authors said that they hoped the required changes would be made by the space industry itself.

"The space industry is renowned as a forward-thinking, market-leading community and it needs to address cyber security urgently," said Mr Livingstone. "What we need is an international community of the willing that would be tasked with developing industry-led standards in order to develop pace and agility in response to the growing cyber threat in space."

Patricia Lewis said that some of that work was already being done, with space agencies looking seriously at advanced protections for space infrastructure.

"The fact that countries such as China are prepared to try completely new approaches such as quantum entanglement, and the European Galileo space navigational network has introduced new security measures, shows the capacity and determination of the space industry to counter the cyber security challenges all of our countries face," she said.