In a digitalized society, the importance of having top-notch cybersecurity has never been more crucial. Cyber-attacks can destroy businesses, reveal sensitive information, and drain your finances. Additionally, according to a new publication, they can also cause mass destruction and death. Recently, an audit by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) of the U.S. military’s newly developed weaponry systems revealed that they have critical cyber vulnerabilities. These security holes allow hackers easy access to control all of the U.S.’s computerized weapons systems. Furthermore, these findings indicate that, while the military prioritized the development of weapons, they failed to focus on the cybersecurity.
The government conducted an audit from 2012 to 2017 that focused on their developing weaponry systems. They utilized skilled, friendly hackers to probe the Pentagon’s online networks for security holes and weaknesses. After releasing their findings this past Tuesday, the results are shocking. The hackers discovered carelessness and negligence in nearly all developing weapons systems. These security vulnerabilities allowed them to easily access the country’s military weapons through online means. Furthermore, in their reports, they stated that they were able to take control of entire systems, view the operator’s computer screens, and delete and add data. As a joke, they even flashed pop-up messages on the operator’s computer screens telling them that they needed to insert quarters before proceeding.
Moreover, while these results are startling, the agency warned that the reported problems represented a small fraction of the overall cyber vulnerabilities in the Defense Department.
What Caused the Security Vulnerabilities?
The GAO listed negligence to fundamental cybersecurity practices as the primary cause of the vulnerabilities. One typical example they saw was using default passwords. In one instance, the team of hackers took a total of nine seconds to guess an administrator’s security password.
“Due to this lack of focus on weapon systems cybersecurity, DOD likely has an entire generation of systems that were designed and built without adequately considering cybersecurity. . . Bolting on cybersecurity late in the development cycle or after a system has been deployed is more difficult and costly than designing it in from the beginning.” –GAO report
This report remains one of many warning the government of deficient cybersecurity. In 1996, the GAO brought cybersecurity vulnerabilities to the public’s attention. Additionally, in 2004, they notified the Pentagon that connecting military systems through the Internet also opened the door to hackers.
Furthermore, while the Pentagon issued a report that they are improving their security standards in response to the audit, many people question their sincerity. In one of the past assessments, the Pentagon only corrected 1 out of 20 identified vulnerabilities.
Threats of Digitalization
As a society, we tend to transition physical objects onto online networks so they can be controlled and operated online. In the government’s case, they digitally transitioned the control of weapons and spent approximately $1.6 trillion developing the new system. While online controls are convenient for us, it also opens the door to the possibility of hackers gaining control of these objects and using them to hurt or kill others.
On the other hand, digitalizing the weaponry system has allows the Pentagon to increase their military capabilities beyond what they could have imagined. For example, the F-23 Joint Strike Fighter is connected to millions of digital coding lines that allow it to activate and target areas. While using multiple codes as a safeguard is a great idea, it only truly protects others if it has cybersecurity against hackers.
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Resources: https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2018/10/10/nearly-all-new-us-weapons-systems-have-critical-cyber-security-problems-auditors-say/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.9da3d54db4ff, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/defense-industry-grapples-with-cybersecurity-flaws-in-new-weapons-systems/2018/10/14/b1de3bae-ce36-11e8-a360-85875bac0b1f_story.html?utm_term=.c77ebadd1d0e, https://sputniknews.com/us/201810141068879069-us-cyber-security-pentagon-risks/, https://thehill.com/policy/cybersecurity/411232-watchdog-exposes-pentagons-cyber-struggles?amp
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