10:05 GMT01 June 2020
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    As hackers become increasingly adept, breaking into movie studios and Twitter accounts, the Pentagon has expressed grave concerns about an even more severe possibility: that a single individual with a computer could breach critical US weapons systems.

    Weapons have evolved exponentially since our ancestors first carved points into tree limbs. But despite the muscle and speed behind a Lockheed fighter jet, newer technologies are increasingly vulnerable to cyberattacks. Warplanes may be light-years ahead of a spear, but at least the enemy can’t log-on to a piece of birch wood.

    Which is why the Pentagon plans to add new cybersecurity guidelines to future arms purchases.

    “It’s about the security of our weapons systems themselves and everything that touches them,” Defense Undersecretary Frank Kendall told Reuters on Thursday. “It’s a pervasive problem and I think we have to pay a lot more attention to it.”

    He’s not the only one with this concern. In January, the Defense Department’s chief weapons tester – an incredible sounding job, where does one apply? – told Congress that almost all US weapons programs showed “significant vulnerabilities” to cyberattacks.

    In addition to the creation of a federal cybersecurity agency, the CTIIC, President Obama has also requested $14 billion toward cybersecurity as part of the 2016 budget. $5.5 billion of that would go directly to the Pentagon.

    So what, exactly, is vulnerable? Are even handguns wired to the Internet in this digital age? Are hand grenades? Not quite, but we’re still talking about some pretty serious hardware.

    F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Lightning II
    © AFP 2020 / HO/US NAVY/ MCS2D
    F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Lightning II

    Flight helmet developed for the Joint F-35 Lightning II fighter aircraft. Joint service operations held at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.
    Flight helmet developed for the Joint F-35 "Lightning II" fighter aircraft. Joint service operations held at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.
    One such concern is the ProASIC3 (PA3) computer chip. Manufactured in China, the PA3 is used in any number of military aircraft. A 2012 study by Cambridge University found that these chips could easily be manipulated to include a “kill switch,” which would render the planes useless, even make them fall from the sky, midflight.

    In 2013, the Pentagon had to reassure a concerned public after the Defense Science Board reported that Chinese hackers had uncovered information about over two dozen major US weapons systems.

    One of the compromised systems was that of the F-35 fighter jet, one of the most expensive weapons system ever created. Costing the US government $400 billion to buy 2,400 jets, each plane comes equipped with a $500,000 helmet which allows the pilot to utilize highly complex onboard computers.

    $400 billion which could potentially be taken down by a $300, refurbished MacBook.

    U.S. Navy littoral combat ship USS Fort Worth
    © Wikipedia /
    U.S. Navy littoral combat ship USS Fort Worth

    A helicopter prepares to land aboard the USS Freedom.
    A helicopter prepares to land aboard the USS Freedom.
    That report also described major weaknesses in the new class of Littoral Combat Ships. Intended to operate in shallow waters, these vessels rely on a maritime computer network which communicates with the larger fleet. But the Navy’s cybersecurity “red team” was able to find an alarming number of security concerns when testing the USS Freedom, the first LCS deployed.

    “During exercises and testing, DoD Red Teams, using only small teams and a short amount of time, are able to significantly disrupt” US military missions, the report reads.

    The report also found that a range of missile defense systems were susceptible to digital breaches.

    Kendall told the American Society of Naval Engineers that the new cybersecurity proposals will be released later this month. As the Pentagon prepares to spend billions protecting the equipment it’s already spent billions manufacturing, it pays to remember: sometimes you just can’t beat a good, sturdy rock and a slingshot.

    Tags:
    US Department of Defense (DoD), cybersecurity, LCS, F-35, CTIIC, Kendall, United States, Barack Obama
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