The internet of things has transformed industries by providing the ability to quickly collect data and interconnect multiple nodes of data input seamlessly.
IoT is doing the same for the military, providing greater access to essential information and helping soldiers make decisions faster. But despite all its benefits, IoT comes with its own set of security risks.
The U.S. military uses IoT sensors on aircraft, weapons systems, ground vehicles and field troops, and all that data is sent to command, control, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) systems to analyze the data stream for potential physical threats and other valuable information that could be used when making defensive or warfighting plans, according to Lockheed Martin.
“Military commanders have always lived and died by information — both quantity and quality,” Joe Mariani, Brian Williams and Brett Loubert wrote in a 2015 analysis piece by Deloitte Consulting. “No surprise, then, that the U.S. military has been an early adopter of the internet of things and is looking to expand its applications.”
IoT allows the U.S. military to connect ground troops, planes, ships and central command instantaneously and seamlessly. Information like location can be quickly tracked by a centralized system without the need for individual service members to report on that information, opening up time for them to spend on other duties. IoT can be used to keep track of military asset to reduce purchasing waste, to filter information directly to augmented intelligence systems for analysis and to send out information to multiple contacts who need to know certain pieces of information immediately, Deloitte experts added.
But just as IoT opens the door for the U.S. military to collect all of this information easily and seamlessly, these tools also open up this possibility for enemy forces to get ahold of this critical information, experts warn.
“The benefits of IoT that make it attractive to the military also make the framework vulnerable to malicious cyberattacks,” said JD Hammond, Lockheed Martin director for the Command and Control, Battle Management, and Communications (C2BMC) System, in a Lockheed Martin analysis piece. “Our challenge is ensuring that the adoption of IoT does not create an opportunity to manipulate a device or network, steal secure information or disrupt the flow of data.”
An October 2016 cyberattack that shut down large swaths of the internet, including major news sites, Netflix and even some small business cash register systems, showed how IoT devices could be used to disrupt technology in the civilian space. This highlighted the importance of securing networks from vulnerabilities via these seemingly innocuous interconnected devices. Even a smart light bulb can create a back door for a hacker to get to a larger target.
Hammond went on to say some of the ways the U.S. military is securing those IoT networks is training staff in cybersecurity best practices, adding detection systems and regularly “auditing” cybersecurity defenses by hiring hackers to attempt test hacks to find vulnerabilities.
Challenges still abound as the military figures out how to best utilize IoT while protecting valuable data. Many warfighting arenas are in isolated areas, so figuring out how to relay data can be tricky.
And some types of IoT, such as bio-sensors like pills or biological implants, are mostly hypothetical. Yet even those sci-fi-like scenarios must be considered when planning for a future where everything is connected.
“For the military, as in any field or industry, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to the IoT,” Deloitte experts added. “The key is to take a reasoned approach to investigating IoT applications. Start from your mission need, whether cost reduction, warfighter effectiveness, or both, and look forward from there.”