Hacker-controlled tanks, planes and warships?

Army officials are worried that sophisticated hackers and other cybercriminals,

including military adversaries, may soon have the ability to hack their

way into and take control of major military weapon systems such as tanks

and ships.

Speaking this month at the annual Army Directors of Information Management

Conference in Houston, Army Maj. Sheryl French, a program manager responsible

for the Army's Information Assurance Architecture for the Digitized Force,

said the potential exists for hackers to infiltrate the computer systems

used in tanks and other armored vehicles. Unlike in the past, today's modern

tanks and ships are almost entirely dependent on computers, software and

data communications links for functions such as navigation, targeting and

command and control.

Although the Pentagon has always had computer security issues to deal

with, "we've never had computers" in tanks and armored personnel carriers

before, said French, pointing to a picture of an M-1 Abrams Main Battle

Tank.

In fact, the Defense Department has already tested and proven that hackers

have the ability to infiltrate the command and control systems of major

weapons, including Navy warships. According to a training CD-ROM on information

assurance, published by the Defense Information Systems Agency, an Air Force

officer sitting in a hotel room in Boston used a laptop computer to hack

into a Navy ship at sea and implant false navigation data into the ship's

steering system.

"Yes, this actually happened," the CD-ROM instructs military personnel

taking the course. "Fortunately, this was only a controlled test to see

what could be done. In reality, the type of crime and its objective is limited

only by people's imagination and ability."

John Pike, a defense and intelligence analyst with the Federation of

American Scientists, said that although there are well-known security gaps

in the commercial systems that the Army plans to use on the battlefield,

hacking into tanks and other weapons may prove to be too difficult for an

enemy engaged in battle.

"The problem for the enemy is that computer security vulnerabilities

will almost certainly prove fleeting and unpredictable," said Pike, adding

that such tactics would be nearly impossible to employ beyond the random

harassment level.

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