New computerized weapons systems currently under development by the US Department of Defense (DOD) can be easily hacked, according to a new report published today.
The report was put together by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO), an agency that provides auditing, evaluation, and investigative services for Congress.
Congress ordered the GAO report in preparation to approve DOD funding of over $1.66 trillion, so the Pentagon could expand its weapons portfolio with new toys in the coming years.
But according to the new report, GAO testers “playing the role of adversary” found a slew of vulnerabilities of all sort of types affecting these new weapons systems.
“Using relatively simple tools and techniques, testers were able to take control of systems and largely operate undetected, due in part to basic issues such as poor password management and unencrypted communications,” GAO officials said.
The report detailed some of the most eye-catching hacks GAO testers performed during their analysis.
In one case, it took a two-person test team just one hour to gain initial access to a weapon system and one day to gain full control of the system they were testing.
Some programs fared better than others. For example, one assessment found that the weapon system satisfactorily prevented unauthorized access by remote users, but not insiders and near-siders. Once they gained initial access, test teams were often able to move throughout a system, escalating their privileges until they had taken full or partial control of a system.
In one case, the test team took control of the operators’ terminals. They could see, in real-time, what the operators were seeing on their screens and could manipulate the system. They were able to disrupt the system and observe how the operators responded.
Another test team reported that they caused a pop-up message to appear on users’ terminals instructing them to insert two quarters to continue operating.
Multiple test teams reported that they were able to copy, change, or delete system data including one team that downloaded 100 gigabytes, approximately 142 compact discs, of data.
One test report indicated that the test t eam was able to guess an administrator password in nine seconds.
For example, in some cases, simply scanning a system caused parts of the system to shut down. One test had to be stopped due to safety concerns after the test team scanned the system.
Nearly all major acquisition programs that were operationally tested between 2012 and 2017 had mission-critical cyber vulnerabilities that adversaries could compromise.
Who would have thought it – after they decided to use Windows (95) for Warships