UAVs aren’t absolute creations. As with most things in
life, there are pros and cons to these military aircraft. Both
remotely piloted and autonomous systems have established
security requirements, but the technology contains multiple
points of entry that invite computerized combat.
Attackers charging onto the cyber battlefield will exploit
any software vulnerabilities. UAVs are mainly used on a
wireless network, and data traveling over these wireless
channels provides an opportunity for cyber attackers to
capture sensitive, highly confidential military information.
Given this security threat, surveillance data and control
commands are often encrypted in an attempt to prevent
unauthorized access. But encoding relayed data does not
seal all possible weaknesses, leading attackers to exploit
modern military encryption techniques.
In addition to confidentiality risks, UAVs are susceptible
to integrity corruption. This can manifest into what is
known as the Man-in-the-Middle (MitM) attack, where
a sender transmits data, attackers corrupt the relayed
information, and the receiver unknowingly obtains the
modified records. Attackers also debase the authenticity of
gathered UAV intelligence by assuming the identity of the
original source. This deceives the receiver, who mistakenly
accepts the gathered information as credible. If corrupted
data infiltrates the unmanned system, then all proceeding
decision-based programming will follow a misguided,
UAVs often transmit real-time data for a variety of
cyber services, including surveillance and reconnaissance
sensors, motion control, and onboard engines. Cyber
soldiers can target these software components, crashing
the autonomous controls and preventing the time-sensitive
delivery of confidential data sent via wireless or satellite
links. The pathway towards a UAV software failure comes
in many forms. Attackers can plant viruses, Trojans, and
other manifestations of malware into the interconnected
communication network. A Distributed Denial of Service
(DDoS) attack also achieves a similar end result, flooding
the server with incoming traffic from many different points
of origin, preventing legitimate requests from entering the
overloaded system. Continuing to infiltrate an unmanned
vehicle’s method of communication, jammed network
channels compromise the availability of real-time data.
Since UAVs use wireless radio links to convey information,
high-energy random noise signals transmitted from jammers
can increase interference to damaging levels.
Looking Towards an Unmanned Future
While the security vulnerabilities are ever-present and
always on the forefront of UAV design and implementation,
unmanned vehicles do exhibit considerable benefits to
military procedures. With the absence of a human pilot
and onboard crew, aircraft can explore high-risk, hazardous
terrains and sustain a fatal mechanical malfunction without
loss of life. Even when communications to the main ground
control system (GCS) have been severed, UAVs can
autonomously carry on the current mission to completion.
Stealth, longer loiter time, and reducing human combat
exposure rounds out the support of a UAV-centric military.
Unmanned aircraft have acclaimed modern-day,
mechanical super-soldier status. With tumultuous
diplomatic tensions and UAV security imperfections heavily
looming, it remains unknown whether or not unmanned
systems will reshape the future balance of power.
Nevertheless, the increasing demand of UAV involvement
in covert, high-risk scenarios inevitably launches these
aircraft towards a long and distinguished military career. ECN
Figure 6: An armed MQ- 9 Reaper flies a combat mission.