Bad OPSEC (Operations Security) exposed by Air War on ISIS?
“Loose Tweets Destroy Fleets” is the slogan (based on the U.S. Navy’s WWII slogan “Loose Lips Sink Ships”) that the U.S. Air Force Central Command used a couple of weeks ago for an article aimed at raising airmen awareness about the risk of sharing sensitive information on social media.
Indeed, the AFCENT article speaks directly to the threat posed by Islamic State supporters who, according to Stripes, on at least two occasions have acquired and posted online personal data of military personnel, urging sympathizers, “lone wolves,” to attack Americans in the States and overseas in retaliation for the air strikes.
The article highlights the importance of proper OPSEC to keep sensitive information away from the enemy and to prevent leakage of information that could put missions, resources and members at risk, “and be detrimental to national strategic and foreign policies.”
Interestingly, the article only focuses on the smart use of social media. Ok, however, there are other possible OPSEC violations that the U.S. Air Force (as well as many other air arms currently supporting Operation Inherent Resolve, in Iraq and Syria, or Enduring Freedom, in Afghanistan) should be concerned of.
USAF C-146A Wolfhound of the 524th Special Operations Squadron
During the last few months many readers have sent us screenshots they took on FR24.com or PF.net (that only collect ADS-B broadcast by aircraft in the clear) showing military planes belonging to different air forces over Iraq or Afghanistan: mainly tankers and some special operations planes.
We have informed the U.S. Air Force and other air forces that their planes could be tracked online, live, several times, but our Tweets (and those of our Tweeps who retweeted us) or emails have not had any effect as little has changed. Maybe they don’t consider their tankers’ racetrack position or the area of operations of an MC-12 ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) aircraft a sensitive information…
Helium balloons of the future network that should give Internet to everyone in the world fortunately use ADS-B.
If you point your browser to Flightradar24.com and zoom off the coast of New Zealand, you’ll see 7 slow moving aircraft: these are actually helium balloons, part of Google’s Project Loon, broadcasting their position, speed, altitude etc. via Mode-S ADS-B.
Project Loon is a research and development project whose aim is to provide Internet access to everyone, even if they live in rural and remote areas. The project features high-altitude balloons, made from sheets of polyethiylene plastic and measuring 15×12 meters, placed in the stratosphere at an altitude of about 20 mi (32 km) with the purpose of crating an aerial wireless network with up to 3G-like speeds.
The helium balloons are all “floating” around 1,000 feet to the southeast of New Zealand, and a probably involved in a testing campaign; after the trial (kicked off in June 2013) Google hopes to launch thousands of balloons around Earth to provide global Internet access.
In the wake of Snowden scandal, someone said that the purpose of the project may not be philantropic and the task of the network of balloons would be global communications monitoring. But this is another story.
Maintainers counter cyber threats for first time at Nellis’s Red Flag
“Train as you fight, fight as you train” has always been Red Flag‘s motto.
U.S. Air Force’s main exercise has to prepare aircrew and support personnel to fight modern war. In the air, on the ground, over the sea and in the cyberspace.
For the first time, the recent Red Flag 14-1 at Nellis Air Force Base featured a “contested, degraded or operationally limited” environment, or CDO, for maintainers, who were trained to cope with cyber vulnerabilities in the systems they use on the flightline.
Ground personnel are always using computers and brand new technologies that may be targeted by cyber attacks launched by tech-savvy adversaries: laptop used for aircraft maintainance and diagnosis, GPS systems, communication and network equipment are all high-value targets for enemy hacking teams. That’s why Red Flag maintainers receive academics on cyber vulnerabilities, information operations and other CDO-related threats.
Hence, along with “kinetic operations” conducted by fighter jets, attack planes and strategic bombers that must dominate a contested airspace or battlefield, a simulated “non-kinetic” war is fought by Red Flag participants to defend their critical systems from attacks coming from the cyberspace; attacks that may be as devastating as those using bullets, bombs and missiles.
According to the roadmap just published, in the next 25 years Pentagon aims at fielding military unmanned systems that will be autonomous and able to perceive, analyzw, correlate and make decisions or react without human intervention.
An obvious move that, among all the other implications, will also reduce the amount of UAS (unmanned aerial system) mishaps, the majority of those are caused by the human factor.
DoD vision up to 2038 is quite clear: drones are the key for U.S. military. And will be even more in the future, when the U.S. will have to face several problems: Pressure for reductions in federal budgets; U.S. military rebalance; Nuclear Proliferation; Violent extremism at home and across the globe; Threats in the Cyberspace (as in land, sea or air and space); Enemy Unmanned Systems.
Noteworthy, the Pentagon has added a new domain to its battlefield: cyberspace.
Acknowledging the risk of drones being hacked or hijacked, the DoD envisages higher data rate cryptography, and open standards to enhance encryption of data links and protect communicated information.
In the future, drones will be increasingly used to fulfil different tasks, including those currently not assigned to unmanned systems: “Although currently prohibited by policy, future capabilities by unmanned systems could include casualty evacuation and care, human remains evacuation, and urban rescue. The unmanned vehicles are intended to mitigate risk to the maximum extent by reducing the requirement to operate manned vehicles when the weather, terrain, availability, and enemy pose an unsuitable level of risk.”
If the long term vision foresees squadrons of robots conduct different missions in the battlefield, there will be a point in the near future when manned and unmanned systems will have to team up. It’s what the report calls MUM-T [Manned-Unmanned System Teaming].
“A force of the smaller, more agile manned-unmanned systems of the near future will enable DoD to mobilize quickly to deter and defeat aggression by projecting power despite A2/AD challenges. MUM-T will provide the following key capabilities: Defeating explosive ground surface, sub-surface (tunnel), and sea hazards from greater standoff distances; Assuring mobility to support multiple points of entry; Enabling movement and maneuver for projecting offensive operations; Establishing and sustaining the shore lines of communications required to follow forces and logistics; Protecting austere combat outposts; Providing persistent surveillance to detect and neutralize threats and hazards within single- to triple-canopy and urban terrain.”
Dubbed SkyJack, the drone is specially “engineered to autonomously seek out, hack, and wirelessly take over other drones within wifi distance, creating an army of zombie drones under your control.”
Actually, you don’t even need a drone to take over drones in your vicinity: you can simply run the required software from your own Linux machine, laptop, and hijack drones remotely controlled by someone else.
For the moment, the hack can be used to target only Parrot AR. Drone, a commercial quadcopter that can be controlled for little more than 10 minutes via smartphone at a range of about 165 feet from the controller.
How does Skyjack work?
It’s quite simple: using a mix of custom code, freely available stuff as well as commercial off-the-shelf hardware (Raspberry Pi, a USB battery, an Alfa AWUS036H wireless transmitter, aircrack-ng, node-ar-drone, node.js, and the software written by Kamkar), SkyJack monitors the MAC (Media Access Control) addresses of all the nearby WiFi devices; if one of such MAC addresses belongs to the block used by Parrot quadcopters, it sends a command that disconnects it from the iOS or Android device that is remotely controlling the drone using an open-source WiFi hacking app dubbed Aircrack-ng.
Aircrack gets the targeted drone’s WiFi card into monitor mode, then Aireplay-ng is used to deauthenticate the true owner. “Once deauthenticated, I can connect as the drone is waiting for its owner to reconnect,” Kamkar explains.
Hence unless you break the encryption mechanism and eavesdrop the comms until you are able to get the authentication keys, it’s almost impossible to take a pro drone over, at least for the moment and using low cost tools.