The Air Force wants to ensure the cockpits of its aircraft and the data its reading are not susceptible to cyber threats.
“If you’re in the cockpit, you have to be assured the track you’re going to shoot at is the track you want to shoot at,” said Vice Adm. Michael Gilday, commander of 10th Fleet/Fleet Cyber Command, said last year. “Same for a fleet commander; they need to ensure the guidance they are putting out to the force has not been tampered with.”
Defense officials fear, for example, that adversaries might be able to hack an avionics system and simulate overheated engines, in turn distracting pilots from their actual mission as opposed to being focused on dropping bombs on targets or enemy aircraft approaching.
According to budget documents recently released for fiscal 2019, the Air Force wants to develop technologies aimed at mitigating cyber vulnerabilities in avionics systems.
Here are five ways the service plans to do that:
- As part of a $166.5 million ask in FY19 under a program element called Aerospace Sensors, the Air Force will seek for technologies that aid in the discovery and mitigation of cyber vulnerabilities in avionics systems.
- Similarly under a separate program element called Vulnerability Mitigation, which the service is asking for $2.7 million in FY19, the Air Force wants to apply knowledge from “computer vulnerability discovery and computer security to investigate capabilities for identifying and mitigating vulnerabilities in United States avionics systems resulting from software and/or hardware deficiencies.” They also want to develop automated techniques and technologies to assist in the identification of potential vulnerabilities.
- As part of a program element called Adaptive Cyber Protections, the Air Force is asking for $3.4 million to develop avionics protection tools to allow manned and unmanned aircraft avionics to automatically adapt and withstand cyber attacks.
- In the Avionics Cyber Vulnerabilities program, the Air Force asks for $3.2 million to develop and demonstrate methods, techniques, and technical tools to improve the vulnerability discovery processes using developed tools and techniques. Specifically, the program will assess avionics boxes, systems, busses, and components.
FY19 plans for the program include completion of assessment tools and continued development of mitigation technologies along with investigation of concepts that enable cost-effective and rapid integration of revolutionary sensor capabilities that allow system flexibility for future operations.
- The Avionics Cyber Protections line item, which the Air Force is asking for $2.5 million in FY19, will develop and demonstrate advanced automated analysis tools and protection techniques to prevent exploitation of cyber susceptibilities in avionics systems.
The program will also seek to discover and mitigate likely attack vectors and include safeguards to assure the integrity of embedded software.
FY19 plans will continue to extend research on a suite of protection tools with a focus on unmanned aircraft as well as continued investigation of automations and optimization of malware detection and classification using machine-learning techniques.
Mark Pomerleau is a reporter for C4ISRNET, covering information warfare and cyberspace.