According to Popular Mechanics, military aircraft like an F-35 have bigger problems then the risk of being shot down during battle – hackers.
While the F-35 is “pretty secure” already – containing PIN numbers for individual pilots and secure authentication in crafting mission packages to upload content onto its computer, for example – the aircraft’s vulnerabilities rise the more entities it has connected to networks, and the outside world.
The worldwide F-35 fleet is connected to two major networks for maximum efficiency: the Autonomic Logistics Information System, used to track individual aircraft issues and locate equipment around the world, and the Joint Reprogramming Enterprise, which maintains a “shared library of potential adversary sensors and weapons systems that is distributed to the worldwide F-35 fleet,” which keeps an F-35 a step ahead of the bad guys, Popular Mechanics says.
While both networks are incredibly secure, they will be key targets for cybercriminals. For example, “Hackers might try to bring down the networks entirely, snarling the worldwide logistics system and even endangering the ability of individual aircraft to get much-needed spare parts,” according to Popular Mechanics. Or, hackers might sneak onto just one network; for example, if a worldwide shortage of F-35 engines is reported on the Joint Reprogramming Enterprise, hackers could “introduce bad data” onto the network that might shorten the range of a weapons system, making a pilot think he or she is safe in an engagement zone, when in fact, he or she is not.
With these risks and others in mind, the U.S. military is working to make sure all equipment, including F-35s, is “properly armored against cyber threats.” Keeping the equipment and its networks safe will be an ongoing job, on top of keeping the country safe. Otherwise, its “greatest advantages [could be] quietly turned against it, the extent of the damage known only once the shooting starts,” according to Popular Mechanics.