Map of Drones over the United States and Drone Failures

Map_of_Drone_Flights_over_US

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has released a new map of authorized Drone use in the United States. The map is created from information obtained from EFF’s Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the FAA. This is an update to a previous map released in April.

The locations show specific identities, including Military and State and Local Law Enforcement, that have applied to the FAA for permission to fly unmanned aerial vehicles in United States airspace.

This has raised a lot of privacy and safety concerns. Especially according to the EFF article, as some of the drones used are military grade:

Perhaps the scariest is the technology carried by a Reaper drone the Air Force is flying near Lincoln, Nevada and in areas of California and Utah. This drone uses “Gorgon Stare” technology, which Wikipedia defines as “a spherical array of nine cameras attached to an aerial drone . . . capable of capturing motion imagery of an entire city.” This imagery “can then be analyzed by humans or an artificial intelligence, such as the Mind’s Eye project” being developed by DARPA. If true, this technology takes surveillance to a whole new level.

There is also the danger of them crashing into populated areas. As this chart from an Air Force Risk Assessment shows:

Predator_Risk_Assesment

This chart is very interesting as it shows several issues that could affect Predator drones. Failure of command link, software failure, weather and conflict during execution of lost link procedures all seem very viable reasons of how Iran has procured two of our drones.

One of which, the Stealth Drone obtained last year, they are now claiming that they can duplicate:

“The American RQ-170 drone will be undoubtedly duplicated,” Commander of the IRGC’s Aerospace Division Brigadier General Amir-Ali Hajizadeh noted on Tuesday.

I highly doubt this is true as even China is having trouble manufacturing the material for stealth aircraft skin and tried to steal some from the US earlier this year.

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ATK Hatchet – New Bomb for US Drones

ATK, a leading US precision arms company has created a new weapon to be deployed on UAV drones.

The “Hatchet” is a 60mm laser guided JDAM bomb that can be used to perform pinpoint strikes where you want to keep collateral damage to a minimum.

The unit is small enough to be carried on the Boeing ScanEagle UAV but can be deployed on full sized strike aircraft up to the F-35. The compact size of the munition allows the MQ-9 Reaper drone to carry up to 108 of these mini-bombs in a rotary launcher.

For more information and a video of the Hatchet, check out Defensetech.org.

Drone Wars – When Cyber War becomes Real

The race to create unmanned military equipment is in full furry. No ground robots were used during the Iraq War in 2003, but by 2008 there were about 12,000 in use there. Congress has required that one/third of all military ground vehicles be unmanned by 2015. Unmanned drones flown by pilots in the US are used daily in the hunt for terrorists in remote places in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Arial drone technology is advancing rapidly. The US is testing the X-47B prototype that will not only land on aircraft carriers but will also be able to be refueled while it is still in the air. A stealth drone (The RQ-170 Sentinel) not only exists, but has been used in service for several years now. At least one of these units provided live video and monitored Pakistani military communications during the raid on Osama bin Laden’s hideout.

But the US is not the only country that has this technology. China, Russia, Pakistan, Iran and about 45 other countries are either developing them or are buying them. Hezbollah has even joined the fray, reportedly using an Iranian designed system.

Much hype has been heard in the media about “Cyber Wars” but most of the instances cited so far point more to espionage or even at the most extreme case, sabotage.  The comparison to “war” really hasn’t been justified. But what if these automated machines could be compromised? What if a drone based virus could change friend from foe designations?

One would have to look first to see if there are any situations where military robots have acted erratic or have been acted upon by external sources. P.W. Singer’s “Wired for War” covers several of these instances.

According to his book numerous accounts have been made where electronic interference have affected these units. Several types of robots in service have been noted to spin or act erratically (called a “Crazy Ivan”) if it is near radio frequency interference. Humorous at best, but when the robots are armed it really isn’t that funny:

The Marine Corp’s Gladiator combat robot protoype (the one the size of a golf cart) also had a Crazy Ivan experience during its testing, driving about in a circle that left the marines at the excercise not knowing whether to laugh or run away.”

Electronic jammers used on US vehicles to prevent IED attacks have also wreaked havoc with military drones. According to Singer, the jammers can cause some drones to crash when they fly overhead. Prompting one army EOD team to call their Talon drone “Rainman the Robot.”

Also according to Singer, military robot manufacturers are using off the shelf components in some equipment and are being pressured to cut some corners in testing to get the units out into the field:

One engineer described “pressure to try to pass safety tests only with the paper version [of the robot’s design]; that is, no field tests.”

Militants have intercepted live video feeds from predator drones in the past, using $26 worth of off the shelf equipment. And recently a virus was found in military systems near computers used in piloting drones.

With many of our systems, military and civilian, under constant attack by foreign entities (even our satellites!), one would have to assume that automated military systems will eventually be targeted by our adversaries too.

Though currently no instances have been recorded of automated systems being infected or attacked, if code could be injected into these systems that allowed enemies to remote control them or change friend from foe designation, we may truly be on the verge of a real cyber war.

AF Drone “Nuisance” could have been from Online Gaming

The malware that hit Creech Air Force Base was a credential stealer and not a keylogger as originally thought, and the drone remote piloted computers were never at risk according to a media release from the Air Force.

The report claims that the malware was detected on September 15th and isolated by the 24th Air Force using standard monitoring and protection procedures. The malware was also quarantined to prevent infection of additional systems:

The malware was detected on a stand-alone mission support network using a Windows-based operating system.  The malware in question is a credential stealer, not a keylogger, found routinely on computer networks and is considered more of a nuisance than an operational threat.  It is not designed to transmit data or video, nor is it designed to corrupt data, files or programs on the infected computer.  Our tools and processes detect this type of malware as soon as it appears on the system, preventing further reach.

The report also states that the ground control system was infected, which is separate from the machines that are used to fly the UAV’s. The UAV pilot systems were not at risk:

The infected computers were part of the ground control system that supports RPA operations.  The ground system is separate from the flight control system Air Force pilots use to fly the aircraft remotely; the ability of the RPA pilots to safely fly these aircraft remained secure throughout the incident.

Apparently, the UAV drone system were not the target of the malware. Instead, according to an anonymous defense official, the malware discovered was the kind that is “routinely used to steal log-in and password data from people who gamble or play games like Mafia Wars online.”

The next question would be, is online gaming and surfing allowed on the systems in this area? It is common for tech savvy employees to use ssh tunneling to bypass restrictive outbound firewall policies.

It is a good thing that the malware was stopped, but with the military’s increasing dependence on drone systems this “near miss” really has to be taken to heart.