An U.S. Navy X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System demonstrator aircraft makes an arrested landing on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) July 10, 2013.

An U.S. Navy X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System demonstrator aircraft makes an arrested landing on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) July 10, 2013. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Lorelei R. Vander Griend

The Navy Is Trying To Hack-Proof Its Drones

Aerial robots weren't expected to become part of the Internet of Things, but now the Navy needs to protect them from cyber threats.

The Navy says it's not sure what kind of cyber threats its drones, sensors and missiles are up against. That's because aerial weapons systems were not expected to become part of the so-called Internet of Things, the present-day entanglement of networked appliances, transportation systems and other data-infused objects.

So, the Navy has kicked off a project to collaborate with outside scientists on research and development that will help protect the branch's flying munitions from hackers, according to the agency. A key aim is to ensure assets can bounce back in the event of a cyber strike.

"There is a paucity of cyber R&D and threat information for weapon systems and supporting systems that directly or indirectly 'connect' to weapon systems," Naval Air Systems Command contracting documents state. Such tools include infection-prone devices such as laptops.

The effort runs parallel to Navy's five-year cybersecurity strategic plan issued earlier this month by Navy Fleet Cyber Command, the branch's central cybersecurity division. 

On Monday evening, a Fleet Cyber Command official told Nextgov the effort aligns with the plan's first goal: to reduce the Navy's attack surface, partly by building security into systems before they go to production.

The attack surface imperiling the military includes known, unknown and potential vulnerabilities across all network infrastructure.

"A weapons system or warfighting platform cannot be susceptible to a cyber-intrusion or attack, because that obviously risks mission outcome and much more," Fleet Cyber Command spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Joseph R. Holstead said in an email. The Air Systems Command initiative "highlights the Navy's warfighting missions' dependence on cyberspace and cybersecurity with respect to mission assurance."

There have been few studies on threats introduced by linking industrial control systems and aerial vehicles, such as launch and recovery equipment, the Navy says. The command's cyber vulnerabilities likely even run as deep as the software and configurations of weapons. 

Through prototyping, officials expect to learn how to block intruders from compromising airborne systems and enable the equipment "to survive and continue to operate during close quarters battle," states the notice for interested researchers released Friday.

Entrants have until May of next year to submit a research abstract. The competition for awards will consist of two an evaluation of all submitted abstracts and then an evaluation of full proposals from selected abstracts. Participants will learn if they are eligible for the second stage within three months after entering. The announcement does not include a contract ceiling or time period for the work.

The project will start with scientific research and end with a deployment of operational technology in real-world mission conditions.  

A few years ago, the branch's widely used Navy Marine Corps Intranet fell victim to hackers, who were reportedly linked to Iran. That attack spurred the launch of a series of cyber defense game plans, including the new Task Force Cyber Awakening, a year-long effort to shore up computer hardware and software. The Fleet Cyber Command, Naval Air Systems effort and the task force are moving forward in coordination, Holstead said.

The Navy, more so than other military components, depends on extremely complex ships and aircraft that must be physically and digitally joined to weapons systems.

"A ship-launched cruise missile relies on the ship for more than just transport to a suitable firing range," said U.S. Navy retired Capt. Mike Walls. "The ship provides critical, digital information from its own systems to the cruise missile before launch in order for the missile to hit its target. If either or both of the systems fail, the ship or the cruise missile, then the target is not destroyed." 

Walls previously served as commander of Task Force 1030, reporting directly to the Fleet Cyber Command. 

The Naval Air Systems Command is not alone in its challenge. Naval Sea Systems Command, which is in charge of ships and submarines, and Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, which manages communications and information systems, are also concentrating on building cybersecurity into systems during the purchasing process, he said.  

"One can argue whether the Navy is late in recognizing this requirement," said Walls, now managing director for security operations and analysis at cyber firm EdgeWave. "But the fact is that most of the operational systems employed by the Navy have existed before any of the services understood that the scope of the cyber threat extended beyond the network to weapons systems." 

Elsewhere in the Pentagon, engineers are crafting an unmanned helicopter proven to be free of software vulnerabilities. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, by 2018, is set to fly a "hacker-proof" unarmed Boeing Little Bird drone that has a communications computer cushioned by tested, supersecure code. 

Areas of study for naval air weapons cybersecurity include:

  1. Cyber resiliency for real-time operating systems and the aviation warfare environment
  2. Identifying and defending access points to systems
  3. The convergence of cybersecurity and electronic warfare
  4. Full acquisition cycle cybersecurity measures
  5. Cyber test, inspection, and incident response concepts
  6. Cyber warning system techniques
  7. Cyber fault, risk and threat assessment methodologies
  8. Resilient network concepts
X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.