Electronic Weapons: The Wireless Hack Makes The Big Time

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March 10, 2015: If hacking weren’t enough of a problem there’s a new and more devastating version coming into use; wireless hacking. Actually, this sort of thing has been around for a long time. But it’s common for new military (and commercial) technologies to take decades to mature. Thus television, radar, lasers, microprocessors and all manner of other technologies existed in more primitive form decades before they became common and widely used. Another new military technology is approaching breakout into the big time and this is wireless hacking. Not just for jamming or corrupting electronic devices wirelessly but even taking control of enemy devices.

This sort of thing has been in use for several decades in Electronic Warfare Pods carried by aircraft. These pods carry electronics that detect enemy radars and other electronic signals hitting the aircraft, identifies them and then sends “false returns” to confuse the enemy. Radar works by bouncing electromagnetic energy off a distant object then interpreting the signals that bounce back to the large dish most radars have. Radar has been available in a useful form since the 1930s but even back then it was known, in theory, how to deceive a radar by broadcasting back “false returns”. After World War II such “false return” devices began appearing and continue to get better.

Deceiving radar was part of a trend in wireless hacking that took advantage of the growing use of wireless signals for the transmission of all sorts of information. In response to this it has become more common to encrypt these signals. The user is still vulnerable if the enemy gets access to the users decryption codes, which allow one to read the encrypted date. In some cases it is possible to crack (decipher) encryption quickly enough to read the data. In addition to sending false data, hackers can now insert malware (hacker software) in the enemy wireless receiver systems and there do all sorts of mischief (stealing data or interfering with the operation of the device).

Since the 1980s there have been rumors that wireless hacking has actually been used. To be most effective details of wireless hacking capabilities must be kept secret. Israel is believed to have developed military technology in this area by the 1970s and used it for espionage as well as for disabling enemy electronics in combat. The U.S. is also believed to have some of this stuff, either developed independently or in cooperation with the Israelis. Russia is known to have developed some advanced theoretical ideas in this area but apparently was never able to develop the necessary hardware and software to make it work.

But now after decades of work and some small successes it has become possible to use wireless hacking on a larger scale for a wider range of attacks. This includes hacking of wireless control signals sent to space satellites. It’s not just the maturation of the technology but the proliferation, since the 1990s, of users of wireless transmission of data and command and control signals. Thus there are a lot more targets now and much better weapons available to hit many of those targets.

 


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