Category Archives: Information Security

Vulnerable To Cyber Attacks, ADS-B May Expose F-22s To Web Based Tracking GAO Warns

A new report highlights the risks of ADS-B transponders. But it focuses on technology rather than operation security.

We have been writing about this topic since 2011. As most of our readers already know by now, Flightradar24 and PlaneFinder are two famous Web-based services that let anyone who has an Internet access on their computer, laptop or smartphone, track flights in real-time.

Aviation enthusiasts and geeks, journalists but also curious people use these portals to get details about civil and military flights all around the world.

The ADS-B system uses a special transponder that autonomously broadcasts data from the aircraft’s on-board navigation systems about its GPS-calculated position, altitude and flight path. This information is transmitted on 1090 MHz frequency: ground stations, other nearby aircraft as well as commercial off-the-shelf receivers available on the market as well as home-built ones, tuned on the same frequency, can receive and process this data.

Flightradar24 and PlaneFinder rely on a network of several hundred (if not thousand) feeders who receive and share Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) transponders data and contribute growing the network and cover most of the planet.

Obviously, only ADS-B equipped aircraft flying within the coverage area of the network are visible.

Actually, in those areas where coverage is provided by several different ground stations, the position can be calculated also for those planes that do not broadcast their ADS-B data by means of Multilateration (MLAT). MLAT uses Time Difference of Arrival (TDOA): by measuring the difference in time to receive the signal from four different receivers, the aircraft can be geolocated and tracked even if it does not transmit ADS-B data.

Although the majority of the aircraft you’ll be able to track using a browser (or smartphone’s app) using the above mentioned Web-based tracking services are civil airliners and business jets, military aircraft are also equipped with Mode-S ADS-B-capable transponders: a 2010 Federal Aviation Administration rule requires all military aircraft to be equipped with ADS-B transponders by Jan. 1, 2020, as part of its program to modernize the air transportation system.

RQ-4 Global Hawk tracked during its mission near Crimea and over Ukraine on Jul. 20, 2017. The U.S. Air Force Global Hawk UAS are among the assets that can be regularly tracked online. (Screenshot from Flightradar24.com)

But, these are *usually* turned off during real war ops. Usually, not always.

In fact, during opening stages of the Libya Air War in 2011 some of the combat aircraft involved in the air campaign forgot/failed to switch off their mode-S or ADS-B transponder, and were clearly trackable on FR.24 or PF.net. And despite pilots all around the world know the above mentioned flight tracking websites very well, transponders remain turned on during real operations, making their aircraft clearly visible to anyone with a browser and an Internet connection. As a consequence, we have been highlighting the the risk of Internet-based flight tracking of aircraft flying war missions for years. In 2014 we discovered that a U.S. plane possibly supporting ground troops in Afghanistan acting as an advanced communication relay can be regularly tracked as it circled over the Ghazni Province. Back then we explained that the only presence of the aircraft over a sensitive target could expose an imminent air strike, jeopardizing an entire operations. US Air Force C-32Bs (a military version of the Boeing 757 operated by the Department of Homeland Security and US Foreign Emergency Support Team to deploy US teams and special forces in response to terrorist attacks), American and Russian “doomsday planes”, tanker aircraft and even the Air Force One, along with several other combat planes can be tracked every now and then on both FR24.com and PF.net.

A U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor departs after receiving fuel from a KC-135 Stratotanker, assigned to the 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron, during a mission in support of Operation Inherent Resolve Aug. 22, 2017. According to GAO, ADS-B poses a threat to the Raptor stealthiness as it may expose the aircraft presence. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Battles)

Today, military planes belonging to different air forces as well as contractor and special operations planes can be regularly tracked while flying over Iraq, Afghanistan, Tunia, Egypt and many other “hot spots”.

A Government Accountability Office report released last month highlighted the risks of ADS-B. According to the watchdog agency neither the Department of Defense nor the FAA have taken significant steps to mitigate security risks associated with openly transmitting flight data from military aircraft (highlight mine):

Information broadcasted from ADS-B transponders poses an operations security risk for military aircraft. For example, a 2015 assessment that RAND conducted on behalf of the U.S. Air Force stated that the broadcasting of detailed and unencrypted position data for fighter aircraft, in particular for a stealth aircraft such as the F-22, may present an operations security risk. The report noted that information about the F-22’s precise position is classified Secret, which means that unauthorized disclosure of this information could reasonably be expected to cause serious damage to the national security.

Such risks have been highlighted since 2008 according to GAO:

In DOD’s 2008 comments about FAA’s draft rule requiring ADS-B Out technology, the department informed FAA that DOD aircraft could be identified conducting special flights for sensitive missions in the United States and potentially compromised due to ADS-B technology. Such sensitive missions could
include low-observable surveillance, combat air patrol, counter-drug, counter-terrorism, and key personnel transport. While some military aircraft are currently equipped with Mode S transponders that provide individuals who have tracking technology the altitude of the aircraft, ADS-B poses an increased risk.

Moreover, there are concerns since the ADS-B technology is vulnerable to jamming and cyber attacks. GAO:

For example, a 2015 Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers article about ADS-B stated that ADS-B is vulnerable to an electronic-warfare attack — such as a jamming attack — whereby an adversary can effectively disable the sending and receiving of messages between an ADS-B transmitter and receiver by transmitting a higher power signal on the ADS-B frequencies. The article notes that while jamming is a problem common to all wireless communication, the effect is severe in aviation due to the system’s inherently wide-open spaces, which are impossible to control, as well as to the importance and criticality of the transmitted data. As a stand-alone method, jamming could create problems within the national airspace. Jamming can also be used to initiate a cyber-attack on aircraft or ADS-B systems. According to the article in the 2015 Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers publication, adversaries could use a cyber-attack to inject false ADS-B messages (that is, create “ghost” aircraft on the ground or air); delete ADS-B messages (that is,make an aircraft disappear from the air traffic controller screens); and modify messages (that is, change the reported path of the aircraft). The article states that jamming attacks against ADS-B systems would be simple, and that ADS-B data do not include verification measures to filter out false messages, such as those used in spoofing attacks.

Lack of solutions:

Although DOD, FAA, and other organizations have identified risks to military security and missions since 2008, DOD and FAA have not approved any solutions to address these risks. This is because DOD and FAA have focused on equipping military aircraft with ADS-B technology and have not focused on solving or mitigating security risks from ADS-B. The approach being taken by FAA and DOD will not address key security risks that have been identified, and delays in producing an interagency agreement have significantly reduced the time available to implement any agreed-upon solutions before January 1, 2020, when the full deployment of ADS-B Out is required.

So, GAO urges DoD and FAA to approve solutions that can address operations, physical, cyber-attack, and electronic warfare security risks; and risks associated with divesting secondary-surveillance radars (since the idea is to divest legacy radars and replace them with ADS-B only). However, based on our experience, proper procedures should be adopted (provided they are not there yet) in order to prevent big OPSEC failures. Indeed, whilst securing ADS-B is a must, it’s probably more important to turn off the Mode-S and ADS-B transponders when conducting missions that need to remain invisible (at least to public flight tracking websites and commercial off the shelf receivers). Unless the transponder is turned on for a specific purpose: to let the world know they are there. In fact, as reported several times here, it’s difficult to say whether some aircraft that can be tracked online broadcast their position for everyone to see by accident or on purpose: increasingly, RC-135s and other strategic ISR platforms, including the Global Hawks, operate over highly sensitive regions, such as Ukraine or the Korean Peninsula, with the ADS-B and Mode-S turned on, so that even commercial off the shelf receivers (or public tracking websites) can monitor them. Is it a way to show the flag? Maybe.

Summing up, FR24.com, PF.net, home-made kits etc. are extremely interesting and powerful tools to investigate and study civil and military aviation; until ADS-B is made more resilient and secure, air forces around the world have only to consider the risk of public flight tracking when executing combat missions in the same way other details, such as radio communications policies and EMCON (Emission Control) restrictions, are already taken into account.

Many thanks to @CivMilAir for helping preparing this article.

See How USAF Aggressors Jam Civilian GPS Signals in Training at Nellis Air Force Base

GPS Jamming is a New Story from Red Flag 18-1, But We Videotaped It at Nellis Last Year.

Despite the Jan. 27, 2018 accident with a Royal Australian Air Force EA-18G Growler, the massive tactical air training exercise Red Flag 18-1 continues from Nellis AFB outside Las Vegas, Nevada. The training exercise extends throughout the sprawling 7,700 square mile Nellis Military Operating Area (MOA) ranges.

Aviation authority and journalist Tyler Rogoway broke the story of the U.S. Air Force jamming GPS signals on a large scale for training purposes during Red Flag 18-1 in an article for The War Zone last week. But earlier in 2017 we went inside Nellis AFB to get a firsthand demonstration of how easy and how quickly the U.S. Air Force can jam GPS signals for training purposes.

In our demonstration, members of the 527th Space Aggressor Squadron (527th SAS) at Nellis AFB showed us how they can use off-the-shelf equipment to conduct tactical short-range jamming of the GPS signal on a local level. The 527th Space Aggressor Squadron was at Nellis AFB for the 2017 Aviation Nation Air and Space Expo. Our reporters got a firsthand look at GPS jamming on media day. In only a few seconds members of the 527th SAS used off-the-shelf equipment available to the public to jam local GPS reception. As you can see in the video, the signal bars on our test receiver, a typical consumer GPS, disappeared entirely as thought GPS simply didn’t exist anymore.

The 527th Space Aggressor Squadron’s mission is not active combat jamming of GPS, but to provide these and other electronic warfare capabilities for training purposes in exercises like Red Flag 18-1. The unit is based at Schriever AFB in Colorado but is attached to the 57th Wing at Nellis. According to the U.S. Air Force, the 57th Wing, “is the most diverse wing in the Air Force and provides advanced, realistic and multi-domain training focused on ensuring dominance through air, space and cyberspace.”

The 527th Space Aggressor Squadron personnel showed enthusiasm for their mission and reminded us that cyber and electronic warfare is the most dynamic and fastest growing battlespace in modern combat.

The unique insignia worn by members of the elite 527th Space Aggressor Squadron. Notice one version worn by the unit is in Russian. (Photo: TheAviationist.com)

In an operational environment jamming GPS signals represents both a threat and an important capability. In addition to serving an important purpose in navigation on land, sea and in the air GPS also provides targeting capability for precision weapons along with many other tactical and strategic purposes.

For instance, among the various theories surrouding the capture of the U.S. RQ-170 Sentinel drone by Iran in 2011, one mentioned a GPS hack. This is what The Aviationist’s David Cenciotti wrote back then:

Eventually there is an explanation for the mysterious capture of the U.S. stealth drone by Iran. In an exclusive interview to the Christian Science Monitor, an  Iranian engineer (on condition of anonymity) working to reverse engineer the RQ-170 Sentinel hacked while it was flying over the northeastern Iranian city of Kashmar, some 225 kilometers (140 miles) away from the Afghan border, says they were able to exploit a known vulnerability of the GPS.

In simple words, in a scenario that I had more or less described in my last post which described also the known threats to the drone’s Position, Navigation and Guidance system, the Iranain electronic warfare specialist disrupted the satellite link of the American robot and then reconfigured the drone’s GPS setting the coordinates to make it land in Iran at what the Sentinel thought it was its home base in Afghanistan.

They jammed the SATCOM link and then forced the drone into autopilot reconfiguring the waypoint of the lost-link procedure to make it land where they wanted.

Such techniques were tuned by studying previously downed smaller drone, like the 4 U.S. and 3 Israeli that could be exhibited in Iran in the next future.

Although we don’t know what really happened to the Sentinel drone during its clandestine mission (in the above article our own Cenciotti was skeptical about the version mentioned by the anonymous Iranian engineer), it’s pretty obvious that dominating the GPS “domain” is crucial to win. That’s why during Red Flag 18-1 the widespread jamming of GPS for training purposes enables warfighters to operate in an environment where electronic and cyber-attacks may disable GPS capability. This compels the players to develop new tactics for fighting “GPS blind” and to revisit existing capabilities perfected in the era prior to widespread use of GPS in a warfighting role.

The 527th SAS displayed press clippings about GPS jamming incidents around the world at Nellis AFB. (Photo: TheAviationist.com)

The U.S. Air Force Has Deployed One Of Its EC-130H Compass Call Electronic Warfare Aircraft To South Korea

One of the few EC-130H Compass Call aircraft, capable to find and hit the enemy forces with denial of service (and possibly cyber) attacks on their communication networks, has been deployed to Osan Air Base, South Korea.

The EC-130H Compass Call is a modified Hercules tasked with various types of signals surveillance, interdiction and disruption. According to the U.S. Air Force official fact sheets: “The Compass Call system employs offensive counter-information and electronic attack (or EA) capabilities in support of U.S. and Coalition tactical air, surface, and special operations forces.”

The USAF EC-130H overall force is quite small, consisting of only 14 aircraft, based at Davis-Monthan AFB (DMAFB), in Tucson, Arizona and belonging to the 55th Electronic Combat Group (ECG) and its two squadrons: the 41st and 43rd Electronic Combat Squadrons (ECS). Also based at DMAFB and serving as the type training unit is the 42nd ECS that operates a lone TC-130H trainer along with some available EC-130Hs made available by the other front-line squadrons.

An EC-130H Compass Call travels along the taxiway at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, June 27, 2017. Compass Call is an airborne tactical weapon system that uses noise jamming to disrupt enemy command and control communications and deny time-critical adversary coordination essential for enemy force management. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Jonathan Hehnly)

The role of the Compass Call is to disrupt the enemy’s ability to command and control their forces by finding, prioritizing and targeting the enemy communications. This means that the aircraft is able to detect the signals emitted by the enemy’s communication and control gear and jam them so that the communication is denied. The original mission of the EC-130H was SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses): the Compass Call were to jam the enemy’s IADS (Integrated Air Defense Systems) and to prevent interceptors from talking with the radar controllers on the ground (or aboard an Airborne Early Warning aircraft). Throughout the years, the role has evolved, making the aircraft a platform capable of targeting also the signals between UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) and their control stations.

According to the official data:

The EC-130H fleet is composed of a mix of Baseline 1 and 2 aircraft. The 55th ECG recently eclipsed 10,900 combat sorties and 66,500 flight hours as they provided U.S. and Coalition forces and Joint Commanders a flexible advantage across the spectrum of conflict. COMPASS CALL’s adaptability is directly attributed to its spiral upgrade acquisition strategy guided by the Big Safari Program office and Air Force Material Command’s 661st Aeronautical Systems Squadron based in Waco, Texas. Combined efforts between these agencies ensure the EC-130H can counter new, emergent communication technology.

The Block 35 Baseline 1 EC-130H provides the Air Force with additional capabilities to jam communication, Early Warning/Acquisition radar and navigation systems through higher effective radiated power, extended frequency range and insertion of digital signal processing versus earlier EC-130Hs. Baseline 1 aircraft have the flexibility to keep pace with adversary use of emerging technology. It is highly reconfigurable and permits incorporation of clip-ins with less crew impact. It promotes enhanced crew proficiency, maintenance and sustainment with a common fleet configuration, new operator interface, increased reliability and better fault detection.

Baseline 2 has a number of upgrades to ease operator workload and improve effectiveness. Clip-in capabilities are now integrated into the operating system and, utilizing automated resource management, are able to be employed seamlessly with legacy capabilities. Improved external communications allow Compass Call crews to maintain situational awareness and connectivity in dynamic operational and tactical environments.
Delivery of Baseline-2 provides the DoD with the equivalent of a “fifth generation electronic attack capability.” A majority of the improvements found in the EC-130H Compass Call Baseline-2 are classified modifications to the mission system that enhance precision and increase attack capacity. Additionally, the system was re-designed to expand the “plug-and-play” quick reaction capability aspect, which has historically allowed the program to counter unique “one-off” high profile threats. Aircraft communication capabilities are improved with expansion of satellite communications connectivity compatible with emerging DoD architectures, increased multi-asset coordination nets and upgraded data-link terminals. Furthermore, modifications to the airframe in Baseline-2 provide improved aircraft performance and survivability.

Although it’s not clear whether this ability has already been translated into an operational capability, in 2015, a USAF EC-130H Compass Call aircraft has also been involved in demos where it attacked networks from the air: a kind of in-flight hacking capability that could be particularly useful to conduct cyberwarfare missions where the Electronic Attack aircraft injects malware by air-gapping closed networks.

With about one-third of the fleet operating in support of Operation Inherent Resolve (indeed, four EC-130Hs, teaming up with the RC-135 Rivet Joint and other EA assets, are operating over Iraq and Syria to deny the Islamic State the ability to communicate), the fact that a single EC-130H (73-1590 “Axis 43”) was recently deployed from Davis Monthan AFB to Osan Air Base, South Korea, where it arrived via Yokota, on Jan. 4, 2018, it’s pretty intriguing.

Obviously, we can’t speculate about the reason behind the deployment of the Electronic Warfare with alleged Cyber-Attack capabilities (that could be particularly useful against certain threats these days….) aircraft south of the DMZ: however, the presence of such a specialized and somehow rare aircraft in the Korean peninsula, that joins several other intelligence gathering aircraft operating over South Korea amid raising tensions for quite some time, is at least worth of note.

Update: some of our sources have suggested that the aircraft was deployed to perform anti-IED (Improvised Electronic Device) tasks during the Winter Olympics, kicking off on Feb. 9, 2018 in PyeongChang County, South Korea.

What Do New Technologies And Digital Transformation Mean To The Military?

New Technologies, IoT And Cyber Threats Are Changing The Way War Is Fought In The Battlefield

Wearables used to monitor activity level and individuals health state. Collaboration softwares used to create virtual conference rooms and messaging tools connecting people through dynamic software-defined wide area networks. Data increasingly moving from on-premise to Cloud hosting environments. Software and applications provisioned on-the-fly and made available through virtualized remote sessions regardless of connecting device’s originating network and OS (Operating System). Drones feeding real-time videos to their remote operators and aircraft engines streaming TB (Terabyte) of data to remote maintenance systems.

Those mentioned above are just a few examples of how technology influences everyday business and personal life. The impact of “pervasive technologies” on today’s society is often referred to as “Digital Transformation,” part of the so-called “Revolution 4.0,” where fusion of technologies is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.

Whilst a large mix of digital technologies is making the world fully connected to improve collaboration, learning, information sharing and decision-making, militaries around the world continue to invest in research and development and seek new technologies that can give them an advantage on the battlefield. More or less what their old and new enemies are doing at the same speed, or faster.

Today’s joint operations on the battlefield require reliable information gathered through a wide variety of sensors aboard drones, spyplanes or provided by troops operating in the field around the world to decision makers oceans apart. The digitized information is collected at the tactical edge and delivered via the secure network connections to the data center where it can be “transformed” through analytics and machine learning to generate critical insight. Such insights can be then shared back to the deployed soldiers at the edge in real-time.

Whilst not simple to achieve, the transformation of images and signals to data, data to knowledge, and knowledge to decision, heavily relies on technology and end-to-end secure fabric. A network of networks that APTs (Advanced Persistent Threats) may try to infiltrate by any means including the new devices interconnected at the edge as part of the continued growth of the (IoT) Internet of Things.

For instance, as we have already explained, the F-35 Lightning II leverages IoT capabilities to support Condition-Based Maintenance by proactively identifing maintenance issues and place orders for replacement parts and ground maintenance crew while cruising, so that, when it lands, everything is already in place and ready to be fixed, without affecting the optempo. Moreover, the F-35 is the largest data collection and sharing platform ever produced, or the Number #1 IoT Device that can collect intelligence and battlefield data from several sensors and share it in real-time with other assets as well as commanders.

Moreover, a growing reliance on technology implies new advanced adversaries to face: in fact, the so-called Revolution 4.0 has already completely changed the geopolitical landscape requiring Defense to evolve and include the Cyber domain because even smaller economies, organizations or individuals (backed by some intelligence service or not) can pose a significant threat to larger nations today.

So, Digital Transformation in the Military is today about using mobile devices and remote sensors to collect data at the edge, transfer it to where is needed (including a private cloud), process it to get actionable intelligence, and send the orders back to the soldier deployed abroad in the shortest time possible: a process that requires cutting edge technologies developed by Aerospace, Defense and National Security companies that are today more exposed than ever to the new emerging threats, and increasingly in the need to show their ability to comply with new security standards if they want to continue working on the most advanced (hence targeted) programs.

Attackers have been trying to intrude Government, Aerospace and Defense firms’ networks, often with real cyber weapons, for years. “Software-based” weapons systems, IoT capabilities, Big Data, Cloud Computing and digitization will simply expand the attack surface they can target, making them even more aggressive and dangerous than ever before. Therefore, a Cybersecurity strategy covering the whole technological domain will be the key to address new and existing risks and threats before these can give the enemy an edge both in the cyberspace and in the battlefield. And such strategy will not have to cover cover “defensive” cyber operations only but also “offensive” ones. Companies that have designed and developed “legacy” EW (Electronic Warfare) systems and pods are increasingly working on Cyber EW capabilities too: indeed, EW aircraft are already embedding (or are about to embed) in-flight hacking capabilities to conduct malware attacks by air-gapping closed networks.

U.S. Air Force EC-130H Compass Call aircraft have already been involved in demos where they attacked networks from the air, a kind of mission that is far from new. In 2007, the success of Israeli Air Force’s Operation Orchard against a Syrian nuclear installation was largely attributed to effectiveness of the Israeli Electronic Warfare platforms that supported the air strike and made the Syrian radars blind: some sources believe that Operation Orchard saw the baptism of fire of the Suter airborne network system against Syrian radar systems. Although the details surrounding this capability are a bit fuzzy, the F-35 AESA radar could be able to do the same thing

Top image credit: U.S. Army

 

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Cybersecurity In The Sky: Internet of Things Capabilities Making Aircraft More Exposed To Cyber Threats Than Ever Before

The rise of IoT (Internet Of Things) could become a security nightmare for aviation. We spoke with an expert about the dangers associated with bringing military and civil aircraft “online”.

The Internet of things (IoT) is the inter-networking of physical devices equipped with electronics, software, sensors, actuators, and network connectivity which enable these objects (referred to as “connected things”) to collect and exchange data.

Almost every device that is able to connect to the Internet can be considered as a “connected thing”: smartphones,  wearables, personal computers, refrigerators, smart meters, cars, buildings and, why not, aircraft can be considered IoT devices that communicate with one another. Smart homes are enabled by IoT devices. Just think to this scenario: a user arrives home and his car autonomously communicates with the garage to open the door. The thermostat is already adjusted to his preferred temperature, due to sensing his proximity. He walks through his door as it unlocks in response to his smart phone or RFID implant. The home’s lighting is adjusted to lower intensity and his chosen color for relaxing, as his pacemaker data indicates that it’s been a stressful day.

Based on some recent estimates, there will be about 30 Billion devices connected to the IoT by 2020.

What is somehow worrisome about the proliferation of IoT devices is the fact that most of these are poorly protected and hackable. Between September and October 2016, a botnet made of hundreds thousands under-secured IoT devices (mainly CCTV cameras) was used to perform one of the largest distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks ever: a malware dubbed “Mirai” identified vulnerable IoT devices and turned these networked devices into remotely controlled “bots” that could be used as part of a botnet in large-scale network attacks. On Oct. 21, the so-called “Mirai IoT botnet” remotely instructed 100,000 devices to target the DNS services of DNS service provider Dyn. As a result much of America’s internet was brought down by the cyber-attack, because it prevent the accessibility of several high-profile websites.

Now, imagine for a moment, that these attacks involved or were aimed at connected airplanes.

“Soon, thousands of sensors will be embedded in each aircraft, allowing data to be streamed down to the ground in real-time. And who knows, in time, this could drive the ubiquitous black box to become simply a backup device!” said Aviation Week in an article last year.

Indeed, an aircraft can leverage IoT capabilities to proactively identify maintenance issues and place orders for replacement parts and ground maintenance crew while cruising, so that, when it lands, everything is already in place and ready to be fixed, without affecting the optempo. This is, for instance, what the F-35’s ALIS (Autonomic Logistics Information System) does: ALIS (pronounced “Alice”) uses sensors embedded throughout the aircraft to detect performance, compare to parameters, use sophisticated analytics to predict maintenance needs, and then communicate with maintenance staff so that the right parts are ready when needed. ALIS serves as the information infrastructure for the F-35, transmitting aircraft health and maintenance action information to the appropriate users on a globally-distributed network to technicians worldwide. In this respect the F-35 is said to be on the IoT’s cutting edge.

Maintenance information aside, the F-35 is surely the largest data collection and sharing platform ever produced, or the Number #1 IoT Device that can collect intelligence and battlefield data from several sensors and share it in real time with other assets as well as commanders.

The F-35 is an example of the extent of interconnection 5th Gen. warplanes feature. To complete missions in denied airspace, pilots need a way to share information securely, without revealing their location to enemy forces. The F-35 has incorporated Northrop Grumman’s MADL into its missions systems to provide pilots with the ability to connect with other planes and automatically share situational awareness data between fighter aircraft. The MADL is a high-data-rate, directional communications link that allows for the secure transmission of coordinated tactics and engagement for 5th Generation aircraft operating in high-threat environments. The MADL is one of 27 different waveforms in the F-35’s communication, navigation and identification (CNI) suite.

With IoT capabilities becoming pivotal to the world of military and civil aviation, connected aircraft could soon become the next target for cyber criminals or cyber enemies.

We have asked a couple of questions about the risk the IoT poses to aviation to Tom Hardin, research lead at G2 Crowd, a peer-to-peer, business software review platform.

Q) What’s the relation between IoT and Aviation?

A) The combination of IoT and aviation is intriguing on a variety of levels. As ‘things’ have become more connected, from wearables to self-driving cars, we now have access to massive amounts of new data points. All of this data can not only help us understand consumers better, but can potentially provide actionable intelligence on the business operations side. An example is tracking the movement of a product throughout a particular supply chain, storing data on production, delivery, and maintenance, that ultimately leads to more predictive and intelligent workflows.

Connecting IoT to commercial aviation, the concept of massive data storage capabilities leading to better analytics, maintenance, and the operation of aircraft could potentially offer significant benefits. Having real-time access to all data points during a flight, such as engine performance, weather analysis, pilot monitoring, etc., could help mechanical engineers create more efficient engines, allow operators to provide more accurate weather forecasts, and aid pilots’ health (and the safety of passengers).

In terms of military aviation, IoT would provide the same potential benefits experienced by commercial airlines, but applied more directly to combat strategies and tactical support. With all of the data gathered through an IoT-connected military aircraft, weapons system, or ground vehicle, missions could be planned with a greater level of intelligence and more effective strategy. Machine learning also plays a role here, as a system can be trained to make real-time decisions, helping collect intelligence faster and identify key threats quicker. For example, sensors on a military aircraft could potentially pick-up a mission-critical piece of information, and instead on that data point being missed or slowly relayed to troops on the ground, it is analyzed and communicated in real-time, allowing for a tactical shift that could increase the mission’s odds of success (and save more lives).

Q) What kind of risks do the above scenarios imply? Are there signs an aircraft or an airport will soon become a battlefield for cyberterrorism or cyberwar?

A) Although there are clear benefits to using IoT for military purposes, there are also serious dangers. Possibly the biggest threat of all is dealing with cyber criminals and hacking. With IoT connected military planes compiling sensitive data, hackers could potentially gain access to strategic information such as the location of troops or detailed mission plans. Even more frightening is the prospect that a hacker could gain access to an aircraft’s control system and weaponry, similar to drone hacks, and use it against the enemy. This type of breach could lead to acts of remote terrorism, which is truly a terrifying thought.

In terms of establishing a timeline on when all of this would be possible, it’s difficult to speculate. My feeling is that it is closer than most of us think. And with DDoS attacks continuing to be an issue, IoT security across industries needs to address the potential for massive data breaches or hostile takeovers.

With all of the potential benefits and security issues with IoT, aviation is something we need to keep an eye on. With the amount of terrorist attacks involving airplanes and airports in recent memory, the threat of a cyberterrorist attack involving a connected aircraft, especially if it is equipped with military-grade weaponry, could be catastrophic. And though hacking into the control system of a plane is likely incredibly complex, security concerns over IoT remain, leaving us to ponder the state if our increasingly connected world.

Hackers have already been targeting modern aircraft made of millions lines of code (with the F-35, the world’s most advanced, “software-based” aircraft at the top of the target list), for years now. IoT capabilities will simply expand the attack surface making next generation aircraft possibly more exposed to hacking than ever before.

Disclaimer: the F-35 is extensively mentioned in this article just because it is most interconnected combat aircraft to date and its Condition-Based Maintenance is considered a clear example of IoT Application in the military.

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