Unmanned Systems: More Reports of Security Vulnerabilities

By Joe Wlad

Joe WladBy now, you’ve likely heard the latest report of security holes in unmanned ground control systems. This time, a key-logging virus has been found on one or more hard drives at the Nevada operations center for the Predator and Reaper unmanned vehicles. While the investigation is ongoing and impact of the virus is determined, the real concern is just how vulnerable are these systems and what might happen next? This is not the first time security gaps have been uncovered in unmanned vehicles. In 2009, Iraqi insurgents were able to intercept unencrypted video feeds from operational Predator UAVs using inexpensive software downloaded from the Internet.

People in the public and private sector are expressing deep concern over how things like this can happen and to how address these problems. As for the “how we got here” question, it’s relatively simple to answer. Essentially, the unmanned air vehicle has been a victim of its own success. Many of these programs, Global Hawk, Predator and others were never designed to be deployed in operational environments. In fact, the DoD in many cases, sought to build these vehicles as prototypes or proof-of-concepts. When the programs were awarded, the diligent contractors for these vehicles used the best of commercial technology to demonstrate the capabilities. The hope was that successful demonstrations would lead to production contracts where the systems could be designed to meet specific security and safety requirements.

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