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Space Force's Cyber Cell Provides Key Protections

The Cyber Defense Correlation Cell for Space aids cyber mission defense teams in protecting vital U.S. space assets.

The establishment of the Cyber Defense Correlation Cell for Space, or CDCCS, by the U.S. Space Force has created an important secondary layer of cyber protections, said, Lt. Gen. Stephen Whiting, USSF, commander, Space Operations Command, U.S. Space Force.

The general discussed the service’s and the Space Operations Command’s most recent cyber defense advancements yesterday at the AFCEA Rocky Mountain Chapter’s annual Cyberspace Symposium, held February 21-24, in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Those cyber efforts are primarily led by Space Delta 6, the less than two-year-old command that consists of five active-duty squadrons at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado, including: the 21st Space Operations Squadron, 22nd Space Operations Squadron, 23rd Space Operations Squadron, 1st Cyber Operations Squadron and 2nd Cyber Operations Squadron. Space Delta 6 also is the service component to the U.S. Space Command, the eleventh and newest U.S. combatant command.

“Space Delta 6 provides assured space access for big chunks of our national security space enterprise through its operations of our satellite control system while also executing defensive cyber operations that protect our critical space weapons,” Gen. Whiting explained. 

As part of considering how the small service could take advantage of its nimble organizational structure when conducting passive and active cyber defense—and harness digital tools, advanced integration concepts and enterprise-wide offensive cyber operations—the service decided to create mission defense teams (MDTs) that operate 24/7/365 at the tactical level.

There, the MDTs “provide active defense against cyber threats that target our space systems in partnership with the very Space Deltas who operate those space weapons,” the general noted. “For example, Delta 6 and their cyber guardians partner with the space operators from Delta 4 and the intelligence guardians from Delta 7 to defend our space-based missile warning enterprise in the cyber domain.”

Gen. Whiting suggested that this real-time application of defensive cyber operations would reduce the likelihood that attackers could access space assets.

However, to add further to their cyber operational posture, the Space Force created the CDCCS at Schriever Space Force Base. 

“This first-of-its-kind Tier 2 organization is a key piece of our layered construct as it provides unity of effort by centralizing and standardizing our defensive cyber operations activities,” Gen. Whiting stated. “Through enterprise-level data collection, the CDCCS integrates detection and incident response efforts across our MDTs and performs elevated analysis, correlation and deconfliction of cyber events.”

The existence of the CDCCS lightens the responsibilities of the MDTs, he continued. “By taking on complex problems at a higher echelon, the MDT's can then remain in their defensive overwatch position at the tactical edge, while the CDCCS provides a birds-eye view of our cyber defense posture,” Gen Whiting offered.

Essentially, the CDCCS enables the Space Force “to see and assess the threats we are facing as they're happening,” he added. And this level of cyber command and control enhances the military’s situational awareness.

As such, the command provides “constant, effective communications”—including real-time cyber security threat conditions, informing cyber intelligence and cyber operational planning—between key stakeholders, such as U.S. Space Command’s Joint Cyber Center, the U.S. Cyber Command, the 16th Air Force and other organizations.

The CDCCS also is becoming accredited as the Space Forces’ Cyber Security Service Provider, or CSSP. “The decision to pursue DoD CSSP certification in February 2020 was driven by several things but mainly the secretary of defense’s [step] to operationalize CSSP,” Gen. Whiting explained. “However, unlike most of the other DoD CSSPs, we are focused exclusively on weapon systems.”

This operation of the CDCCS is a necessary addition to the MDTs’ efforts given the immense risks.

“Our adversaries are working hard to turn our interconnectivity into an operational weakness that they could exploit to influence strategic centers of national power,” he stated. “But it is the job of Space Force to ensure that does not happen to our space enterprise.”