The Military’s Cutting Edge Robots and Drones

Cyber war is all the rage now, but advanced persistent threats are not the only cool thing that happens when you marry hardware and software together. Check out some of the latest tech that is coming down the pipe to a battlefield near you:

US Army A160 Hummingbird VTOL UAS

By early summer, the US Army will deploy three of these robotic helicopters to Afghanistan.

The U.S. Army is using a hybrid-type acquisition approach to develop a helicopter-like, Vertical-Take-Off-and-Landing Unmanned Aerial System with a so-called ARGUS wide-area surveillance sensor suite designed to beam back information and images of the surrounding terrain, service officials said.”

This unmanned eye in the sky will come packing a whopping 1.8-gigapixel color camera, and will be able to scan an area of about 25 miles.

To provide a sense of just how high-resolution this sensor is, Leininger compared it to a standard cell phone camera. A cell phone image typically runs between 1 million and 2 million pixels. With ARGUS-IS, it’s 900 to 1,800 times that number — enough to track people and vehicles from altitudes above 20,000 feet.”

USMC Kaman K-Max

This unmanned cargo helicopter is already in service in Afghanistan. Two were sent in August of last year for battlefield trials. One successfully completed an actual mission last month.

They will be used for resupplying troops in hard to get to or dangerous locations. The K-Max can be flown remotely or the more traditional way requiring a pilot:

K-MAX, which employs a unique counter-rotating, dual-rotor design that eliminates the need for a tail rotor, is capable of lifting 6,000 pounds, or nearly its own weight. Originally designed as a manned civilian craft, K-MAX has been modified by Lockheed to operate with or without a pilot onboard.”

The goal in Afghanistan is to reduce the number of manned convoys. Drone vehicles could eventually account for a large portion of resupply missions:

Pratson has said a single K-MAX helicopter could reduce reliance on convoys to resupply forward operating bases in Afghanistan by 6 percent. At that volume, a fleet of 16 to 20 aircraft theoretically could handle 100 percent of the resupply mission in Afghanistan, although that isn’t the plan for now.”

Robots of the Future

The military has already made heavy use of robots in detecting and disposing of explosive and IED devices. But the push is on to make these robots even more autonomous and intelligent. The Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific is working with the Naval EOD technology division to create the next generation robots.

According to the Department of the Navy’s October-December 2011 issue of CHIPS magazine, color and infrared technologies will be used to map an area and detect hostile targets or suspicious devices:

“The Autonomous Robotic Mapping System (ARMS), for example, can automatically explore an unknown or hostile environment while building a highly accurate and detailed map. A scanning laser rangefinder measures distance to all surrounding objects within a 360-degree field of view, and stereo cameras assist with three-dimensional rendering. No human guidance is necessary, other than initial high level direction telling the robot where to search.”

Military drones and robots currently save lives and with the demand for more and better platforms, they will increasingly take over more common and dangerous tasks making our troops safer and more effective.

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China’s “Online Blue Army” Ready

(Photo/China Daily, mod.gov.cn)

According to the China News Service (ECNS), China is a victim in cyberwar and needs to develop a strong security force to defend itself from further attacks. Hence the “Online Blue Army” has been created and is ready for cyber warfare.

Using rhetoric similar to cold war Soviet Union, CNS paints China as the developing nation trying to defend itself against international threats.

When I was a child growing up I heard numerous times that the Soviet Union needed so many nuclear missiles to protect it’s vast land mass from aggressors. Everyone knew though that the large missile stockpile was more of a threat than a safety net. It seems that China may be trying to play the same card.

Granted China has the most internet users, about 485 million. That is a lot of users, especially when compared to the US who sits at #2 with 245 million. The scary part is that the US already has about 80% of our population connected, whilst China is only about 40% connected. And just by shear number of users, would have a large amount of virus infections.

But is China the victim that they claim? ECNS states,  “China can be described as merely a computer user with a fairly fragile Internet security system. These are circumstances that cry out for the build up of Internet security forces.”, and, “China is a defender in the cyber war battlefield, fending off the ‘information warfare’ and ‘media warfare’ of others...”

Not likely, China has faced international condemnation from numerous nations that claim China has not only infiltrated key networks, but have exfiltrated government and military secrets. But yet, they claim that the “Online Blue Army” will help defend China’s military internet and that it is only in an “entry level” state:

Li Li, a military expert at the National Defense University, told the People’s Daily that compared with the online military units of Western countries, China’s “Online Blue Army” is currently at its fledging stage, and applied more in online maneuver mode than as an organic, large-scale online army.

Though the article denies that the “Blue Army” tag has any relevance, in military war games the “Red Team” is normally the aggressor force, and the “Blue Team” is usually the defending force or “good guys”.

China already has a very strong cyber capability. I am really not sure what they are trying to prove or who they are trying to deceive by this obvious propaganda piece, but we are not buying it.

Iran Builds New Drone – And So Can You

We have all heard about Iran claiming to bring down the American Stealth Drone with a sophisticated cyber attack. According to their claim, they somehow tracked our RQ-170 stealth drone , deciphered our military GPS system, blocked our communication to the drone, then spoofed the GPS signal making the drone think that it was returning to base, and finally landed it with minimal damage.

Once they had it, they are now trying to convince us that they can extract data from the encrypted on-board database, reverse engineer the drone and use the technology to make their own UAV drones that are comparable or more superior to the US.

But how advanced is Iran’s home grown UAV program?

An Iranian college recently released information on a UAV that they have created:

At first it looks like a full size leer jet, until you notice the car in the background. Another thing that stands out of this homegrown Iranian Drone is the word “Honda” on the side.

Hmm… Either this means “Death to America” in Farsi or could China be helping them build a new class of advanced drones?

Apparently you too can have your own Advanced Iranian UAV. Our researchers have found not only a blueprint for the classified design, but a complete parts kit and instruction manual (written in English!):

You can even buy one for yourself or a friendly third world country.

Tell them Ahmadinejad referred you for a 10% discount! Order in the next 15 minutes and get the new Ahmadinejad bobble head doll with realistic “Death to America” action.

Act now, supplies are limited!

(Okay, before my inbox gets flooded with e-mails, the CIA starts to investigate me or Model RC Planes Inc. gets hit with angry people who want a 10% discount or an Ahmadinejad bobble head doll, this is just a joke!  🙂 )

Medical Office Insecurity – HIPPA Gone Wild

I had to take a relative out of town to see a specialist at a “more modern and up to date” medical facility. Apparently the local award winning hospital was just not good enough. And you can tell he was a specialist, because the hour wait to get into an examination room was followed by another hour waiting to be actually seen by the doctor for 5 minutes.

While I was there I was shocked by the lengths that they went to enforce HIPPA privacy. No longer do you wait in a cattle line to check in. No way, you waited in a lobby with your hands folded gently in your lap for your number to be called. And when the glorious bank teller like receptionist finally called you, you hesitantly approached the exalted one and waited behind a line painted on the floor ten feet from the desk.

Just in case you missed the bright yellow line and the painted feet showing you where to stand, signs posted everywhere stated in a draconian font, “For patient safety, stand behind the painted line until called, or you will be shot.” Or something like that. I guess they didn’t want you to see that the receptionist was on Facebook before they were ready for you.

Each receptionist Window had wide blinds installed so that you couldn’t see anything going on at the next receptionist window. And each computer monitor had a privacy screen to protect that classified patient data.

Once in the exam room all seemed to change though. The nurse dutifully checked my relative’s vitals, logged into the Windows XP computer in the room and entered all the information into their online system. She then told us the doctor would be in to see us within the next month or so and left the room.

Sitting there pondering life for what seemed like an eternity, I noticed several things. One, she seemed to stay logged into the patient database when she left the room. Two, no password protected screen saver kicked on. Three, she left the logged in system unattended in a room with patients for literally about an hour. Four, when the Doctor finally graced us with his presence, he did not log in, just moved the mouse to turn off the screen saver and started viewing my relatives file.

Finally when we left, we had to go the the billing window. Again, the wait behind the line nonsense. Then the billing window with the privacy dividers and screens. As I stood there as my relative paid the co-pay, I looked at the wall beside the checkout clerk. In plain site was a note that stated:

Wireless Password: (And it listed a Password)

John XXXXX – IT Tech Support guy
XXXXXXXX – Tech Support Company Name
XXX-XXXX – Tech Support Phone Number

Okay, noticing that the Billing workstations seemed to be connected wirelessly, one could assume that the listed password was indeed the password used to connect to the wireless network. Also, the listing of the tech support personnel name, company and phone number is a social engineer’s dream.

The Bible verse, “Strain at a gnat, but swallow a camel” really came to mind when we left. They went to exorbitant levels to protect individual patient privacy, but then left the keys of the kingdom out in plain view. Hopefully this isn’t an example of every doctor’s office, but a little knowledge about how a social engineer attacks a network would come in a long way in not just protecting one patient’s privacy, but the security of the whole patient database.