January 2, 2023No Comments

Securing Communications: what to expect from IRISS (Infrastructure for Resilience Interconnectivity Security by Satellite)

Authors: Giovanni Tricco, Giorgia Zaghi and Maria Makurat.

The challenges of secure communications today and the launch of IRISS

Secure communications and connectivity are today more important than ever. Ensuring a safe, fast and reliable channel for such strategic activities is not just a matter of digital transformation and competitive advantage, it is a matter of establishing one’s autonomy in a world where space power has become a critical component of international politics. On October 13th, the European Union took a significant step forward in order to achieve such autonomy. That is, the adoption of the report on the secure connectivity programme for 2023-2027, also known as Infrastructure for Resilience Interconnectivy Security by Satellite (IRISS). The aim of the program is to detach from third-country dependencies on infrastructure by securing the Union’s communications and to provide high-speed broadband connectivity to areas that are now considered “dead-zones”. Such goals will be met thanks to the nature of IRISS. That is, a multi-orbit constellation capable of creating synergies with the already existing satellites Galileo and Copernico. The constellation will be situated in Low-Earth Orbit (LEO), the closest feasible latitude to the planet's surface spanning from 300 to 1600 km, ensuring rapid broadband connectivity.  That means, data will flow faster from terminals on the ground to satellites in orbit and back.        

While the necessity to establish the EU’s position in the space realm is certainly a strategic priority, the recent happenings of the war in Ukraine have highlighted some structural fragilities and vacuums which ultimately called for a concrete push in securing the Union’s communications.

Photo Credits: unsplash.com

War in Ukraine and satellite security

The Ukraine war has shown how a solid cyber strategy that includes satellites is vital also in face of war. In May, BBC News and other outlets reported of Russia hacking the Ukraine satellite communication KA-SAT system which was also attributed by the European Council to Russia in May 2022 in this statement. This attack had an impact on the communications as well as the government and the military. At the beginning of the war, there was also significant concerns by analysts whether Russia would launch several cyber attacks against satellites and communications systems in Ukraine and the West. As a reaction to this cyber attack on Ukraine, the European Space Policy Institute has released a report, to analyze said cyber attack on KA-SAT and how space cyber security plays a role for the war in Ukraine. An interesting take from the report is, that there also seems to be a question around which countries and which company are exactly responsible for the security of the communications system in another country: “The attack did not target the KA-SAT satellite itself, but one single “consumer-oriented partition of the KA-SAT network”, which is owned by the U.S. company Viasat but operated by Eutelsat’s subsidiary Skylogic. This raises questions on the responsibilities and liabilities of each company for ensuring proper cybersecurity.” This would be one significant challenge when it comes to developing new frameworks for the launch of constellations to ensure better connections between countries in terms of space security. This is also similarly discussed by academics such as Johann Eriksson and Giampiero Giacomello calling the consequence of technologies at the crossroad of outer space and cyberspace “fragmentation” - meaning that governance becomes increasingly difficult since “The growth of states with space program has gone from the original 2 to around 70 today, and the simultaneous growth of private corporations (and NGOs) in space contributes to an increasingly fragmented field of stakeholders.”

Furthermore, the US and other countries have been supporting Ukraine during the war with not only physical military equipment but also funds and technological development to keep the communications system intact. This support is part of the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative (USAI) and shows how space and cyber are an integral part of the war. Ukraine has also been using AI during this war which was already analyzed by our members in another blog article which can be read here. Therefore, we can grasp why the EU is working on launching its sovereign constellation. 

Now let’s get down to the nitty gritty of the matter. IRISS focuses on several goals which range from strategic positioning, creation of synergies and environmental concerns. More specifically, we can expect these objectives from the deployment of the constellation: 

  1. Top-notch technologies for secure communications: the constellation will integrate quantum computing features that will provide a higher level of encryption on the data that will flow on the new infrastructure. These technologies are part of the EruopeQCI (Quantum Communication Infrastructure) initiative and are aimed at improving the overall Cybersecurity and Resilience of the European Union along with improving its digital sovereignty and competitiveness. The program’s goal is to “safeguard sensitive data and critical infrastructures by integrating quantum-based systems into existing communication infrastructures, providing an additional security layer based on quantum physics”. 
  2. Synergies with already existing assets in the EU space programme: creating synergies with the already existing assets - Galileo and Copernico - IRISS will be offering new services such as addressing natural or maritime disasters. 
  3. High-speed broadband connectivity everywhere: The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) pointed outthat just 63% of the world’s population was connected in 2021, amounting to 2.9 billion unconnected people. IRISS will be an important player in the fight of the digital divide, bridging the gap between urban and rural areas, eliminating “dead-zones”.
  4. Reducing space congestion: Considering the increasing volume of debris and satellites in space, IRISS sets new objectives for Space-Traffic Management, trying to keep space a safe environment. Additionally, the EU will use IRISS -  a key enabler for Air-Traffic Management - to reduce air traffic congestion and avoid an excess in fuel consumption, with the ultimate goal of reducing CO2 emissions.  

Moreover, as a spillover effect of the new communication system the EU will have the capability to reinforce its stance in cyberspace. The EU's new "status" will enable for the seamless operation of key infrastructure and the continuous cooperation of citizens and public agencies in the event of emergencies and disasters. Furthermore, it would serve as a backup infrastructure for terrestrial networks as well as a stable infrastructure for places that are currently disconnected but may need communication in the event of crises and catastrophes. 

Additionally, satellite communication, integrated with the data-imagery service of Copernicus,  would improve early-warning systems by monitoring the environment and delivering the latest data to public authorities, allowing them to respond rapidly to environmental hazards such as floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, or radioactive releases.

Therefore, several opportunities will arise for the EU following the constitution of an operational European Constellation. The new space infrastructure would be a significant step forward for the EU on its journey to digital sovereignty, as it would allow the EU to flow in outer space data and information that are considered sensitive and strategic for its autonomy. As a result, such data will be secured from unlawful third-party access, as may occur under extraterritorial law such as the US Cloud Act. In addition, the new constellation could be used as a ‘geopolitical tool’, offering fast broadband internet connection to neighboring countries, such as north africa, where internet access lacks. Indeed, of the 2.9 billion unconnected people the 96% reside in developing countries. 


In conclusion, IRISS holds an enormous potential in different areas, however, it is not free of challenges that must be addressed as quickly as possible. Indeed, a fine balance between public private and partnership in the construction of the constellation should be institutionalized, as well as shedding light on who should be responsible for the security and functioning of the constellation. Moreover, the EU will have to develop an attentive Space Traffic Management strategy to ensure a safe, secure and sustainable use of Space. Furthermore, how should AI be regulated in the constellation and, more broadly, in outer space? How much autonomy should a space object be granted? In particular, experts suggest that appropriate frameworks to offer legal certainty should be developed in the near future to offer appropriate guidelines on the use of AI and new technologies in outer space, such as to ensure coordination among satellites to avoid collisions or assessing an appropriate fair balance of Human-Robot Interaction for in-orbit services

The initial phase of IRISS development is critical for the time being to foster public debate about the relevance that the new constellation will detain and its future benefits and challenges. Indeed, in the upcoming years space will be a significant playground for the European Union as its digital sovereignty and autonomy will be put at test in front of issues related to both infrastructure dependency and strategic advantage. 

March 14, 2022No Comments

From a Hashtag to a Trans-State Insurgency: Cyberspace and the Antiracist Movements

By: Julia Hodgins and Leigh Dawson.

Following the anti-racist movement sparked by the killing of George Floyd, #BlackLivesMatter generated worldwide attention by connecting clusters of individuals with compatible claims about race, marginalization, and police brutality. The movement turned into a global social insurgency facilitated by shared long-term grief and amplified by cyberspace.

In July 2013, Patrice Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi created and tweeted the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter, in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman, accused of killing Trayvon Martin, an unarmed African American teenager. Unlike social movements before it, #BlackLivesMatter reawakened the collective memory of racial oppression using a new medium – social media. This hashtag has become a referent to highlight multiple cases of African-American citizens killed by police officers in the USA. According to The Washington Post’s database, roughly 1252 were killed by police between January 2015 and July 2020. This social and cultural movement is iconic of the oppression that African-Americans have and continue to endure in USA – much of which is rooted in America’s slavery past. 

The new public ‘agora’

The increased accessibility and connectivity of cyberspace made it possible for a seemingly mundane event to reach a global audience; a phenomenon, prior to the advent of internet, restricted to those with enough social capital that remained part of the public agora alone.

Today, non-state actors – particularly individuals and civil collectives – connect online under less complex rules and often without punishment. Although, some states, like China and former Soviet nations, heavily regulate and redact content its population can see and engage with online. The legal framework and its enforcement practices often do lag in relation to cyberspace’s exponential growth and innovation, enabling non-state actors to maximize their exchanges – in quantity and quality – and by extension, wield outside of their local networks.

The unprecedented speed and outreach capacity of social media foster an unparalleled amplification power, turning cyberspace into a transformative domain that enables communities of shared experiences or beliefs to amalgamate into influential worldwide trends. Increased interconnectivity leads to a new level of collective interoperability, benefiting individuals and groups directly by growing their social capital through these exchanges. Citizens ‘live’ as both virtual and kinetic personas connected in one living macrostructure alongside public and private networks, collective spaces, and the content these all produce. As an unintended consequence of the dynamics within cyberspace, persistent disruptive social processes have found new ways to create tangible influence; this is what happened with #BlackLivesMatter. 

Optic fibers knit social tissue

Support networks between people, and the sense of belonging shaping them, are timeless. Just as centuries ago, today humans associate in search of mutual help, of spaces to share feelings, of making sense of their lives by revisiting their past and imagining their future. Part of this collective memory is shared grief, and remembrance. There is not, however, a natural link between collective memory or indignation, and cyber connectivity. How did collective memory migrate online? 

Large-scale, corporate, non-state actors dominate cyberspace, and their influence sponsors the proliferation of smaller non-state actors; as Singer and Brookings state, “For all the talk of ‘community,’ these platforms are businesses.” Following the inception of cyberspace, social media companies grew and profited by offering online community spaces to individuals, civil collectives, and smaller business, either free or at a tiny fraction of office expenses and thereby connecting physically remote individuals through smartphones, computers, tablets, and other devices. 

The number of Internet users has grown from 2.6 million in 1990 up to 4.66 billion in 2021, according to ourworldindata.org and Statista. The agency and power each actor have is uneven, and in most cases inferior to states’ power based on budget and influence, but the devil is in the detail. Cyberspace has enabled individuals to connect and share voices beyond borders, the interplay of online activity and offline creates a tangible social impact in a way that has altered the relationship between themselves and the state within cyberspace, though states do remain dominant offline.

While corporate actors reign in cyberspace, countless smaller non-state actors have gained traction and agency through mass leverage of their voices, thereby creating new patterns of social forces which challenge the status quo with diverse impact on power asymmetries.

And just like that…

That is how antiracist movements became a global movement for justice; the killing of George Floyd triggered colossal indignation, and spurred memory trips to similar events prompting the #BlackLivesMatter tweet, activated by pain, hopelessness, and rage deriving from both the remembrance of lost loved ones dead on the hands of racist police brutality, and historical struggles. As online activity continued trending, protests were replicated across the planet and headlines covering them increased, which reinforced both online activity and street protests; these two incorporated new cases of black citizens killed in similar ways. In Jay Winter’s words, “Suffering [was] democratized,” thanks to cyberspace. Winter also argues that such shared grief migrated geographically and intergenerationally; this double-dimension migration brought to the forefront a sentiment of restitution expressed in multivocal stories shaping a worldwide demand for social justice and equality. A paramount example is the video that Darnella Frazier, a 17 year-old high school student, spontaneously recorded when witnessing the arrest and asphyxiation of Mr. Floyd. Her video went viral after she posted it in Facebook in May 27, 2020, and was of essential value during the trial that convicted Derek Chauvin, the officer whose knee suffocated Mr Floyd. Ms Frazier stated that “she felt she has to document it.” The video later earned her a Pulitzer Special Citation and has been attributed as responsible for the rebirth of the civil rights movement.

Ms. Frazier’s video ignited feelings of grief and indignation around Mr. Floyd’s killing worldwide, which aligned in real-time clusters of social unrest that were geographically scattered but connect via tags, retweets and likes, thus, strengthening their activities. This collective remembrance later connected with the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter – active since 2013 – lending it new salience. Once hashtag and meaning were articulated together, the movement gained unprecedented momentum and aligned multiple antiracial protests within the USA and abroad into what Colin Gray forecasts in Another Bloody Century (2006); an intra-state and trans-state conflict. It also resembled David Kilcullen’s definition of irregular warfare, as memorialisation and social insurgency interplayed between urban settings and online venues.

Official net-warring

Historical patterns of domination at the root of persistent social inequality, which are based on an assumed – yet not factual – racial superiority, have survived within many nations in the shape of systemic racism, fuelling counternarratives between state(s) and protesting groups. During the upsurge of this antiracist social insurgency, American President Donald Trump was at war with protestors and deployed the National Guard to help local authorities regain control of their cities after rebels hijacked the peaceful protests and began destroying businesses. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson delegitimized marches by calling them ‘thuggery’; and, the former Royal Canadian Mounted Police Commissioner Kristy Kirkup neglected the systemic racism blatantly present within the federal police force and other societal systems across Canada. The hashtag #AllLivesMatter, began circulating across the same channels, attempting to delegitimize #BlackLivesMatter, a Conservative response rooted in counterinsurgency tactics, arguing that everyone’s life is important, but failing to include the elements of structural racism at the heart of the BLM movement on it.


The Black Lives Matter movement has shone a spotlight on more than two centuries of racial inequality and structural racism that had been allowed to proliferate in the USA, and across the world, unchallenged. The movement empowered youth, connecting them with historical grievances of their ancestors and those of today that still shape societal relations, locally and globally. However, #BLM’s collective memory and remembrance would not have turned into this trans-state uprising reaching worldwide prominence, without the transforming power of the horizontal amplification and vertical proliferation that cyberspace provides.