April 12, 2008
A couple of stories from Wired may have the sheeple doing a Chicken Little.
Military Robot Turns Its Gun on US Soldiers
Source: Popular Mechanics
An armed military robot, known as SWORDS, was reportedly pulled of Iraqi battlefields practically at the last second:
Last year, three armed ground bots were deployed to Iraq. But the remote-operated SWORDS units were almost immediately pulled off the battlefield, before firing a single shot at the enemy. Here at the conference, the Army’s Program Executive Officer for Ground Forces, Kevin Fahey, was asked what happened to SWORDS. After all, no specific reason for the 11th-hour withdrawal ever came from the military or its contractors at Foster-Miller. Fahey’s answer was vague, but he confirmed that the robots never opened fire when they weren’t supposed to. His understanding is that “the gun started moving when it was not intended to move.” In other words, the SWORDS swung around in the wrong direction, and the plug got pulled fast. No humans were hurt, but as Fahey pointed out, “once you’ve done something that’s really bad, it can take 10 or 20 years to try it again.”
Translation: The bot started moving, and the technophobes freaked. No reason for why the bot moved when it shouldn’t have has been given. Wired likened the SWORDS situation the Robocop scene where a presentation of ED-209 goes fubar when a suit is mistakenly gunned down.
The insurgent who may have hacked the SWORD’s frequency must be smiling like a shark.
UPDATE 15-May-2008: This blog from Wired reports that the SWORDS battlebots are still in Iraq, only not doing what they were supposed to do:
The first three armed ground robots deployed onto a battlefield are stuck behind sandbags and are not patrolling Iraqi streets as its inventors envisioned, said a senior executive with its manufacturer, Foster-Miller Inc.
The reson for the bots malfunctioning is even easier to explain in two words: Shoddy workmanship.
There were three cases of uncommanded movements, but all three were prior to the 2006 safety certification, she says. “One case involved a loose wire. So, now there is now redundant wiring on every circuit. One involved a solder, a connection that broke. everything now is double-soldered.” The third case was a test were the robot was put on a 45 degree hill and left to run for two and a half hours. “When the motor started to overheat, the robot shut the motor off, that caused the robot to slide back down the incline,” she says. “Those are the three uncommanded movements.”
Once the bugs are worked out, the bots may eventually see battlefield action. Then we can say humanity is screwed.
Industrial Control Systems Killed Once and Will Again, Experts Warn
In 1999, three people died and eight were injured when gasoline in a creek from a ruptured line caught fire. This past Wednesday, computer-security “experts,” speaking at the RSA Conference in San Francisco, claimed that the incident was the result of “a control-system incident:”
Wednesday, computer-security experts who recently re-examined the Bellingham incident called its victims the first verified human causalities of a control-system computer incident. They argue that government cybersecurity standards currently under debate might have prevented the tragedy.
But the factor that intrigues (Joe) Weiss and fellow researcher Marshall Abrams, a scientist at MITRE, is a still largely unexplained computer failure that began less than 30 minutes before the accident and paralyzed the central control room operating the pipeline, preventing workers from releasing pressure in the line before it hemorrhaged.
“The NTSB concluded that if the SCADA system computers had remained responsive to the commands of the Olympic controllers, the controller operating the pipeline probably would have been able to initiate actions that would have prevented the pressure increase that ruptured the pipeline,” reads the NIST report.
“These are the first fatalities from a control-system cyberevent that I can document, and for a fact say that this really occurred,” Weiss said in an earlier interview with Wired.com.
The board found no evidence of a computer attack from the outside, though. But Weiss, an outspoken evangelist for tighter control-system security standards, said he’s suspicious of the NTSB’s finding that the computer operator was at fault.
While SCADA systems security have been improved (we hope so, at least), Mr. Weiss’s comments sounds too much like a sales pitch for NIST 800-53, the government’s “security standard” he hopes infrastructure providers will adopt, especially after the CIA’s claim of hackers attacking foreign utilities earlier this year. Keep pouring that kool-aid, Mr. Weiss.