Three days ago, unbeknownst to most of the world, China initiated a test flight lasting 24 hours. The object gaining flight was the 75 meters long, 22 meters high “Yuanmeng”, an airship taking up the volume of 18,000 cubic meters. It is solar powered, and the test was successful when the airship edged toward near space, a region of the earth’s atmosphere that exists between 20km and 100km in altitude.
The Yuanmeng is capable of carrying a payload of up to 7 tons that includes sensors, cameras, and other equipment, all of which will be solar powered thanks to sun-soaking solar panels installed on the top of the airship. The same solar energy will be used to power its rotors for forward flight, reports Chinese publication People’s Daily Online.
As a multi-purpose airship, the Yuanmeng can be used to detect stealth aircraft at high altitudes, warships, cruise missiles and even missile launchers that are installed hundreds of miles away.
The Yuanmeng also holds considerable advantages over the JLENS (Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System), an American airship that is currently residing near Washington D.C. and can be used for similar missions like the Yuanmeng. For starters, the JLENS is tethered to the ground while the Yuanmeng could freely take a stroll in the skies, powered by the sun.
The Yuanmeng could, in fact, climb so high that it can also be used as a communications relay to Chinese drones and satellites while relying on ground communications if satellite communications go offline.
Hovering along near Space
Near space, a region of the earth’s atmosphere between 20km to 100km poses a tricky problem, not only for the height and the air density in the zone but due to thermal expansion. Yu Quan, an academician at the Chinese Academy of Engineering points out the problem:
“The biggest challenge for the near-space airship is the big temperature difference in the day and night.”
Most traditional aircraft will not be found venturing into near space too often, but the American X51A, and the HTV-2 aircraft are notable exceptions due to their hypersonic flight capabilities.
Operating in near space comes with its advantages, despite the challenges. The Yuanmeng would have an uninterrupted line of sight that would cover a hundred thousand air miles at such an altitude. An untethered position up there, in near space, could prove invaluable for radar systems.
The Yuanmeng can be deployed for a number of reasons including research, weather forecast, data relays as well as its military applications.
Featured image from Shutterstock, Yuanmeng concept from caanews and JLENS from Wikimedia.
Drones Are a Next-Generation Computing Platform, Says Intel
Intel announced the first Intel drone designed specifically for light shows: the Intel Shooting Star drone. With this drone, the company plans to demonstrate that drone light shows can redefine entertainment and create amazing new experiences in the night sky.
Police Drone Can Be Hacked With Tech Worth $40
A security researcher has claimed that a police drone can be hacked using parts that cost as little as $40.
While drones are being used by cops, border security forces, military and even first responders to an emergency, one researcher has shown that one government-ready drone model can be hacked from over a mile away to be taken control of by a malicious hacker, WIRED reports.
The exploit will be exhibited by security researcher Nils Rodday, showing flaws in the security of at least one government ready UAV. While there is no “easy fix” for the vulnerability, the drone’s manufacturer has been informed.
Rodday, a security researcher by profession and employed at IBM will demonstrate the flaws in the security framework of a UAV that costs anywhere between $30,000 to $35,000. The vulnerability lies in the drone’s radio connection which allowed him to take complete control over the quadcopter. The means to gaining the exploit? A laptop and a cheap radio chip, connected via USB.
The Drone Hack
Although Rodday doesn’t reveal the drone manufacturer or the specific UAV that he tested, the research was conducted at the University of Twente in the Netherlands. The drone, costing up to $35,000 is more expensive than conventional drone because of certain features including longer flight-time, eight rotors as opposed to four or six and the means to carry loads up to 2.9 kgs.
The three-foot wide drone has been deployed by police and fire departments with a flying time up to 40 minutes. Furthermore, it has also been used for inspecting windmills, power lines and aerial photography.
Rodday discovered that the drone’s telemetry module was fitted with an Xbee radio chip. The Wi-Fi connection used between the telemetry module and the user’s application is WEP or ‘Wired-Equivalent Privacy” encryption, a legacy protocol that can be infiltrated in seconds by any proficient hacker. With this alone, an attacker in the Wi-Fi range to break that connection could potentially send a “deauth” command to boot the drone operator off the network and take over.
Notably, the radio chip module converts Wi-Fi commands sent by the app into low-frequency radio waves. These waves are subsequently transmitted to the drone which houses another Xbee chip.
Rodday, armed with the two Xbee chips and a computer, set out to perform the hack.
- He initially intercepted the Wi-Fi connection to boot the drone operator. Rodday was then made quick work of cracking the WEP protocol.
- Although the Xbee chips had built-in encryption features, they were disabled in order to avoid latency concerns between the operato’s commands and the drone. This left the drone vulnerable to a man-in-the-middle attack.
- This additional participant could intercept commands and take control of the drone, without even touching the drone’s command interface or the telemetry control box controlling the drone.
“If you think as an attacker, someone could do this only for fun, or also to cause harm or to make a mess out of a daily surveillance procedure,” Rodday told the publication.
You can send a command to the camera, to turn it to the wrong side so they don’t receive the desired information…or you can steal the drone, all the equipment attached to it, and its information.
The drone’s manufacturer who are now aware of the exploit, only plan on fixing it in the next version of the quadcopter. Amazingly, owners of the drone will be unable to patch the UAV since it cannot be connected to the internet, or be updated with a security patch. Rodday’s former advisor at the university claims that a patch –even if it can be downloaded onto a PC or tablet – is insufficient, calling for the product to be recalled. The security researcher claimed that the only way to truly ensure security while not compromising on latency would be using an extra module specifically for ensuring security for the UAV.
Rodday also claimed that the vulnerability existed beyond this one drone and its manufacturer, as calls made toward other manufacturers about how they secured the Xbee radio protocol went unanswered.
I think this vulnerability exists in a lot of other setups. The impact of the whole thing is bigger than this manufacturer.
Featured image from Shutterstock.
Infrastructure Technology Group Questions Hacker Group’s NASA Breach Claim
The Institute for Critical Infrastructure Technology (ICIT), a non-partisan group of innovation experts and firms that provides solutions to support and protect critical infrastructure, has questioned the AnonSec hacker group’s claim that it breached NASA’s internal networks and almost crashed a Global Hawk Drone in the Pacific Ocean. Hacked reported AnonSec’s claim on Monday.
AnonSec claimed that in 2013 it bought an “initial foothold” from a hacker who had knowledge of NASA servers, then started trying to find out how many computers they could break into and hijack. The hackers claimed they gained flight logs, employee personal information and video footage from the $222 million drone.
James Scott, ICIT co-founder and senior fellow, contacted Hacked and presented an assessment of the hacktivists’ claims.
Hacktivists’ Claims Scrutinized
An AnonSec administrator contacted a journalist and claimed to have exfiltrated between 100 to 276GB of data from NASA drone systems and servers, according to Scott. AnonSec also claims to have provided The Guardian and Wikileaks with copies of the encrypted data.
The next day, the hacker group provided “samples” of the data online, supposedly containing 631 aircraft and radar videos, information on 2,414 employees, and 2,143 flight logs.
AnonSec said it targeted NASA because they want the agency to disclose the amount of radioactive and hazardous chemicals in the upper atmosphere. AnonSec claims NASA obfuscated the real levels in an effort to diminish the global warming threat.
It released only a teaser video on the indexed Internet. Larger files allegedly from the breach have surfaced on the darknet, but the data hasn’t been verified.
Accessing NASA Servers
Scott said the group did not breach NASA systems through any sophisticated attack vector. They bought a foothold on the deepweb from a hacker with “knowledge of NASA servers.” The seller could have been a malicious threat actor inside NASA. Other accounts indicate the hacker could have established a presence by accidentally infecting a NASA system with the gozi virus.
AnonSec claims it used a sniffing program to steal a system administrator password. These stolen credentials allowed the group to access at least three network-attached storage devices (NAS) that contained backup copies of flight logs and data.
The group also claims to have focused on these systems in order to copy data as NASA employees uploaded new data. It targeted drone systems because the systems record chemical samples from the upper atmosphere. It dedicated members to the technical aspects of the breach like infecting new hosts, compromising camera systems or mapping the network.
Other members sifted through the allegedly stolen data.
Corroborating Claims Challenging
Corroborating or disproving the hacktivists’ claims may be difficult for security experts since the group claims to have deleted indicators of their network presence.
The current status of the breach is still at “claim” level and there has been no response from NASA or the FBI that legitimizes the claim, Scott said.
AnonSec claims it spent months in NASA’s internal network. Scott said it is hard to believe NASA hasn’t created a technologically sophisticated cyber barricade around its infrastructure.
What NASA Could Have Done
If AnonSec’s breach claim is accurate, NASA could have used the following methods to slow down the breach:
1) User behavior analytics. This is an early warning mechanism to detect user behavior abnormalities.
2) User behavior biometrics. This is another early warning mechanism that is valuable when used to detect physical abnormalities in users’ technical behavior.
3) Multi-layered field encryption of data in transit and stationary, including name, email, phone, etc. should each of these have individual encryption algorithms. If the adversary breaches the network and goes undetected and can exfiltrate information, they have to decrypt each field.
4) Ongoing penetration testing. This is penetration testing by skilled hired hackers to uncover vulnerabilities in the network and IoT attached devices.
5) Insider threat analysis. People who work at federal agencies with access to classified material must undergo direct and indirect psychological and lifestyle assessments to see if they are under threat or could become a threat. Credit profile, marital and family relationships, financial threats and professional satisfaction all play a role in assessing the possible threats from inside an organization.
6) Consider that each network, device, drone, NASA location is vulnerable and breached until proven otherwise by penetration testing and vulnerability assessment/risk analysis. Such simulations consider all known threat actors, exploits and vulnerabilities.
7) Change administration credentials from “default” to a creative combination.
The above information is based on what is known about the breach that AnonSec claims to have facilitated, Scott said.
What Did AnonSec Divulge?
Also contesting the credibility of the hack is that the leaked employee information only consists of names, email addresses and phone numbers. Much of that information is attainable on the open internet and the all of that information can be stolen from a hacked Microsoft Outlook account (or comparable email client).
The prototype hacker process begins with the following steps, Scott said. Knowing these steps can help organizations spot vulnerabilities.
• Reconnaissance. This is the social engineering phase, intelligence gathering on the target and various paths to the target
• Internal exploitation.
• Establish persistence and gain a foothold.
• Install tools.
• Move laterally throughout the network.
• Collect, exfiltrate and exploit.
Images from Shutterstock and ICIT.
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