Protecting Weapon Systems from Cyber Attack

The Air Force has come up with seven lines of attack for protecting its weapons systems from cyber threats, said Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski, commander of Air Force Materiel Command, at ASC16 on Wednesday. The first involves analyzing the mission threat and trying to determine where exactly the threats lie. This is not always obvious. Pawlikowski used an F-16 as an example. Though the jet is not plugged into the system while it’s in the air, maintainers use automated test equipment to work on the aircraft while it’s on the ground and the operational flight program is created with software. Both are areas where a threat can be introduced. Second, the Air Force must figure out how to incorporate cybersecurity into future weapon systems and weapon system upgrades. It also must develop the right cyber expertise, said Pawlikowski. The fourth line of attack involves the use of open mission systems that will allow for the rapid and affordable upgrade of weapon systems. “The cyber threat moves fast and we have to be able to respond quickly. We can’t take 10 years to change out the GPS capability in an airplane if there is a cyber threat that’s been able to negate our ability to use GPS as an example,” she said. The Air Force is working to create a classification guide that will establish a common understanding of the security environment. And, finally, it must figure out how to make legacy systems more resilient to cyber threats and incorporate “cyber intelligence into the solution,” said Pawlikowski.