Electronic Weapons: A Sense Of Being Hacked To Death


April 24, 2015: Civilian and military vehicle manufacturers are become increasingly aware that the many (dozens) of small computers in their vehicles and increasingly common wireless communications capability makes these vehicles vulnerable to hacking. There have been a growing number of vehicle hacking incidents and while manufacturers of commercial vehicles worry about criminal hacking and general liability for accidents related to hacking, military users are concerned about such hacking by opponents in a combat zone rendering their combat vehicles useless.

Most people are unaware of how much computers have become a key part of their vehicles. The people who maintain vehicles know all about it, because those who have been in the business since the 1990s can remember a time when you didn’t have to plug a PC into a vehicles network to find out what was wrong and how to fix it. Over the last decade it has reached the point where you don’t just start your car but boot it, like a computer. Even when the vehicle engine is turned off, there’s a lot more battery drain than in the pre-computer days because many systems remain on nearly all the time so users don’t have to go through the kind of boot process PC users are accustomed to.

In the military the latest generation of combat vehicles (M-1 tank, M-2 infantry vehicle and Stryker) are all “booted” when troops are ordered to get ready to move. This “boot the vehicle” attitude began in 2005 when troops equipped with Stryker wheeled armored vehicles got new communications gear and sensors that were all networked with the many small computers already part of the basic vehicle systems. That collection of gear worked so well that the younger troops, who grew up with PCs and game consoles, began talking about using a vehicle that was booted, rather than simply started and literally took longer to be ready than a less well equipped vehicle. The main idea with this new gear was to provide the troops with superior "situational awareness." That's a fancy term for having a good sense of where you are. The Stryker troops always knew where they were, by looking at a computer screen. There, a GPS placed the vehicle on a detailed map of the area.

Over half a century of studies has resulted in knowledge of what an infantryman needs to be more effective. Most is important is the need to know where they are, quickly. Having a poor idea of where you are proved to be one of the main shortcomings of armored vehicles. Infantrymen can just look around, armored crews tend to be cut off from this while inside their vehicle. The crews are even more easily disoriented. When the shooting starts, even the commander, instead of standing up with his head outside the turret, ducks back inside to stay alive. Infantry aren't much better off. Although they can see their surroundings, they are often crouching behind something. When getting shot at, standing up to look around is not much of an option.

With all this additional surveillance gear armored vehicles suddenly became more “aware” than infantry when the shooting gets intense. This has made infantry more enthusiastic about having one of these “bootable” armored vehicles around. But now in addition to snipers, the troops have to keep alert to hacking attempts, which might be carried out on the ground (rather than in an aircraft or UAV) and be close enough to shoot at and shut down. While vehicles can be hacked, the infantry cannot, so even with all the new awareness the armored vehicles still need infantry for protection from some types of threats. 




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