Spearheading a New Era of Satellite M2M Services

Phil Berry, Vice President, ViaSat, gives an update on its collaboration with Thuraya to develop a dedicated satellite machine-to-machine (M2M) platform to address the most challenging market requirements.

In recent years, there has been a surge of interest in M2M communications, and for good reason. Its vast business benefits, such as enabling higher production capacity and enhanced security, have spurred many companies to integrate M2M into their daily operations.

To tap into this emerging market, ViaSat recently entered a partnership with Thuraya to develop a highly secure, end-to-end managed M2M service to support diverse market applications. Targeted applications include the oil and gas sector, power grids, asset tracking and fleet management, as well as high-value point-of-sale and banking networks. The two companies aim to leverage their combined expertise to deliver a competitive M2M offering.

Phil Berry, Vice President, ViaSat, said: “ViaSat has a long history of programs that have enhanced and evolved military narrow-band technology in the United States and international markets. This invaluable experience is now being applied to our partnership with Thuraya. We believe Thuraya’s powerful satellite constellation and its RF gateway in Sharjah are key contributors to the superior capabilities our new M2M network can offer.”

ViaSat operates the latest state-of-the-art satellite networking that enables IP connectivity to small, inexpensive fixed and mobile devices. Together with Thuraya’s L-band network, this technology represents the potential for a disruptive M2M service that delivers more efficient utilisation of the satellite bandwidth. For instance, the ViaSat-Thuraya platform can accommodate a larger number of active M2M devices within a single beam, enabling energy, utilities, logistic and enterprise SCADA networks.

“We have developed a platform that can support a large number of M2M devices without requiring multiple satellite channels. In addition, the service brings greater value to customers with high security, high availability, low latency, multicast and push-to-talk capabilities. The combination of these unique capabilities in a single network enables new and improved M2M services for better situation awareness, and enhanced remote monitoring and mobile asset tracking operations,” Berry explained.

A core component of Thuraya and ViaSat’s M2M strategy is to develop a secure service for government and military end-use. As such, this new M2M network provides the highest level of commercial encryption on all mobile data traffic, and can support the use of external encryption if required.

Berry is highly optimistic that the Thuraya-ViaSat service will have a profound impact on core M2M market segments, especially in providing M2M application developers with the ideal platform to develop new IP-based applications and services.

“This partnership has the potential to lead satellite M2M services into a new era. We will continue working with key industry players to improve on existing applications, and at the same time facilitate the development of new, innovative ways of managing and monitoring fixed and mobile assets,” Berry concluded.

Cyber-Hardening: why it is critical to satellite communications

Satellite hacking incidents can wreak havoc in areas ranging from terrestrial communications to military operations, oil and gas pipeline integrity, and financial markets. In this guest blog, Conrad Smith, Chief Technology Officer of SRT Wireless, explains the importance of hardening commercial satellite communications, and how SRT Wireless has implemented safeguards against hacking into the VIPturbo modem for the Thuraya satellite network.

The satellite communications industry is abuzz with concern about cybersecurity, and for good reason.

Last spring, cybersecurity advisory firm IOActive released
a much-publicized report detailing multiple vulnerabilities in a wide range of commercial and military satellite communications systems. These vulnerabilities include digital backdoors built into computer codes, hard-coded credentials that allow easy access to devices, insecure language protocols, and weak encryption of communications channels.

The firm found that these vulnerabilities could allow hackers to intercept, manipulate, or block satellite communications—in some cases even take control of the satellite itself through something as simple as a text message containing a malicious code.

“If one of these devices is compromised, the entire satellite communications infrastructure could be at risk,” the report said. “Ships, aircraft, military personnel, emergency services, and industrial facilities, which include oil rigs, water treatment plants and gas pipelines, could be affected.”

Consequences of a breached infrastructure

Satellite security breaches have been reported as far back as 1999, when a group of hackers in the south of England utilized a home computer to change the “characteristics of channels used to convey military communications, satellite television and telephone calls.”

In 2007, Tamil rebels in Sri Lanka successfully hacked a U.S. Intelsat satellite in order to send pirated radio and television broadcasts to other countries.

And in 2008, hackers gained control of the NASA Terra EOS earth observation satellite twice—for two minutes in June and nine minutes in October.

Today, commercial vendors and the U.S. government alike must embrace hardening of their satellite communications systems. An attack on global positioning systems (GPS) alone could wreak havoc on global financial systems, where stock trading systems use GPS to synchronize with each other. Even a momentary discrepancy could cause a “Flash Crash” such as the one on May 6, 2010, in which the Dow Jones Industrial Average lost nine percent of its value within minutes.

Delivering enhanced security for satellite communications

These real-life incidents illustrate the critical importance of hardening—the proofing of satellite software and communications against outside interference—particularly as attacks are increasing in both frequency and sophistication.

To guard against cyber-attacks and mitigate potential damage, SRT Wireless, a Thuraya Service Partner, hardens its satellite modems prior to deployment. As a company with more than 15 years of experience serving customers in national security and law enforcement missions, we want to bring that level of protection to commercial customers.

To be specific, our software undergoes a series of vulnerability analyzes by a third party to identify and help close off potential cyber-attack methodologies. The areas analyzed include logical vulnerabilities as well as attacks based upon malformed packets. 

Added security assessments and adjustments need not mean an increase in the costs of modems. SRT’s VIPturbo modem packs more features into a smaller box at a lower price than our competitors.

The warning signs are clear, yet the solutions are available. While hardening may require new actions on the part of satellite communications providers and customers, the benefits will greatly reduce the potential for cybercrime and attacks on your operations.

For more information on SRT Wireless’s mobile satellite solutions, please visit http://srtwireless.net.

Guest Blog: Communicating conservation with the Sahara Conservation Fund by John Newby

In an exciting new development, the Sahara Conservation Fund (SCF) has joined forces with Thuraya to vastly improve our capacity to communicate while in the field.

SCF’s mission is to conserve the wildlife, habitats and other natural resources of the Sahara and its bordering Sahelian grasslands. The vision is of a Sahara that is well conserved and where ecological processes function naturally, with plants and animals existing in healthy numbers across their historical range.

Over the next six months, we will benefit from Thuraya’s support with their XT satellite phone handsets, Thuraya IP broadband terminal and a SatSleeve satellite adaptor for our iPhone. If you follow us on our Facebook page, you will see how we’ve used the Thuraya equipment during our recent fieldtrips to Chad and Niger. 

In the picture above, SCF’s Director, John Newby and colleagues transmit news from Central Chad.

Not only will Thuraya’s equipment significantly enhance our communications outreach but will also allow virtually real-time reporting from the field to our sponsors and supporters. Apart from communicating our work, the partnership with Thuraya will also address two other extremely important aspects of our work in what are often isolated and potentially dangerous locations.

Thuraya IP satellite broadband terminal

Keeping in close contact with our teams on the ground greatly improves coordination and perhaps more importantly creates a safety net should anything go wrong while out of regular contact, such as a vehicle breakdown, a sick person or an accident.

SCF thanks Thuraya and its service partner, Satellite Communication for helping us on our mission. To learn more about the SCF, subscribe to our Sandscript bulletins!