Trends and innovations in defence and the cyber security challenges that come with them

Every year, there are new innovations and trends in the defence industry, and these present additional cyber security challenges that the MOD has to be prepared for.

With each new device that is connected online, there is a new target for cyber attackers, and the MOD needs to find the solutions which make it better able to detect and respond to these increasingly sophisticated attacks.

A rising tide of threats and cyber attacks in the public sector, such as WannaCry, has created an anxious undercurrent, and the MOD needs to make sure that it is doing enough to defend itself against known threats, with the ability to anticipate where the next threat is coming from.

Here are four innovations and trends in the defence industry, and the cyber security challenges that come with them:

 

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies have been a disruptive influence throughout the defence sector over the past several years, with drones and unmanned vehicles as well as robots which can be used to disarm explosive devices, allowing computer systems to perform tasks which typically require human intelligence such as visual perception and decision-making, thereby diminishing the need for humans to risk their lives in the battlefield.

The MOD is interested in leveraging AI technologies and launched the Defence Innovation Initiative in 2016, which pledged to spend £800 million over a ten-year period to increase the pace at which these innovations are developed and brought into service.

AI technologies will help the MOD in areas where significant manpower is currently expended to manually process and analyse data, which can delay effective decision-making – for example, areas such as automating the identification and assessment of events in real time and predicting future scenarios based on historical patterns, as well as in image classification and face recognition, intelligence reporting and open source media feeds.

However, AI technologies also come with security risks. Experts have forecast that, as AI systems become more capable, cyber attackers will seek to leverage the technology to commit more frequent and sophisticated attacks which many organisations who still rely on manual efforts to identify threats will not be able to handle.

 

Blockchain

A number of commentators regard blockchain technology as one of the most exciting and disruptive technologies to be linked to the defence industry in recent years. Blockchain is especially suited to the defence sector because of the high levels of security it offers.

The technology works by lumping digital records into ‘blocks’ and storing these blocks across multiple databases at the same time in such a way that the owner of the document can maintain a copy of it. However, because the data is not stored in a single location, there is no centralised version of the information that can be corrupted by a hacker.

Blockchain is widely known as the backbone of BitCoin, the cryptocurrency, and BitCoin’s blockchain underpinnings have been able to successfully withstand cyber attacks for more than a decade.

This resilience in withstanding attacks is why blockchain is seen to have a military capability, and it is a compelling solution for those in the defence sector with its distributed node system allowing participants layers of security inside a sealed network.

The MOD is already looking to explore the use of blockchain technology to create smart documents capable of being deployed securely in difficult and sensitive environments. Elsewhere in the defence industry, prime contractor Lockheed Martin has announced it is to integrate blockchain features into its data systems to address threats such as manipulation in its ‘networked and weapons system embedded cyber physical systems’.

Cloud computing

While cloud computing is nothing new in the defence industry, it has changed the way that the MOD does business over the past decade, replacing the ‘siloed’ systems that the Department has historically used.

Cloud computing, which uses a network of remote servers hosted on the internet to store, manage and process data, was adopted by the MOD last September when it announced that it was taking ‘a full-blown leap into the cloud’ and moving its computer servers over to Microsoft’s new UK-based Azure cloud data centre.

The MOD’s adoption of a ‘cloud-first’ policy makes sense because cloud computing has more storage and processing power and is more efficient and cheaper to use than the Department’s previous model – the MOD will only be charged for the data it uses.

However, the reality is that no network is 100% reliable and no network is completely secure. Thus, defence organisations will continue to try to find solutions which will allow them to maintain military operations when, not if, the cloud network infrastructure which it increasingly relies on is the target for bad actors.

Internet of Things

In its broadest sense, the Internet of Things (IoT) refers to devices that are connected to the internet and ‘talk’ to each other.

Although these devices, such as smartphones, are relatively new to the commercial sector, the defence industry has been at the forefront of the development of IoT technologies. For several decades the defence industry has been using aircraft, ground vehicles, ships and weapons systems that are connected to a common network in order to share tactical data with one another, long before the technology gained momentum in the commercial world.

However, as IoT technologies are increasingly adopted for commercial uses, the MOD and the defence sector at large will have even more security concerns to contend with as everyday items such as routers, printers and smartphones are connected online and can potentially be hacked.

There have already been immense distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks which have targeted vulnerable IoT devices to spread malware; and because there are so many internet-connected devices to choose from, these attacks can potentially take place on a much larger scale than cyber attacks could previously achieve.

With this in mind, the MOD is proactively looking for innovative solutions to help mitigate the security challenges that are presented by IoT technologies both now and in the future.

If you can provide these innovative services, or the cyber security solutions which are needed to protect them, sign up to DCO today and find out about contract opportunities with the MOD.