[ARTICLE] Connected Objects and Defense: Security Uses and Issues

     The last “Defense Innovation” forum (November 2017) at the initiative of the Secretary General for Administration of the Ministry of the Armed Forces highlighted the need to innovate at the heart of the ministerial information system. Issues related to digital transformation, Big data and IoT uses were pointed. IoT, which stands for a growing market and between 50 and 80 billion connected objects, will circulate in the world in 2020. The race for technological innovation therefore challenges companies and ministries that aspire to use more connected objects for security purposes; but also to secure them because they are exposed to many risks.

IoT Use on the Tactical Field: The Auxylium Ecosystem 

   In increasingly asymmetric wars (state armies versus violent non-state armed groups), information and technical superiority prevail. Connected objects that have “levelling capabilities”, i.e. low cost and accessible, are an asset to Defense. The former Chief of Defense Staff, General de Villiers, stated this in 2015. The IoTs bring about a fundamental change in the conduct of operations that push armies to transform and modernize. It is in this capacity that the Armament General Direction is currently operating a partnership with Atos, a French firm working for Innovation and new civil mobile technologies. The result of this alliance resulted in the “Auxylium” solution designed to lighten the burden onboard combatants. Thus, this system allows the soldier to create a “digital security” and to free himself from the heavier traditional mobile telephone networks.

Connected, the soldier will be able to use his own 4G and benefit from assistance in the management of field missions. Thus, this soldier “in networks” will also be able to connect with tanks, drones from his smartphone, and learn about his ammunition consumption in real time. Atos has developed an ecosystem for internal information exchange. The Auxylium kit therefore consists of a smartphone, a PTT (Push to talk) headset and a Helium box that maintains the connection to the military and civilian 4G mobile network. This system allows fast connection with different types of mobile 4G bubbles specially dedicated to military operations. In addition, French soldiers are currently using the Auxylium ecosystem, which promotes greater mobility in combat zones, as part of Sentinel Operation.

IoT and technical competence

   Digital transformation responds to growing needs, particularly within the armed forces, where it is necessary to develop the concept of the 1990s. Battlefields are increasingly being digitized. Armies are now embarking on a digital transformation that places man at the center of a system around which equipment and weapons gravitate, forming an overlay of networks. It is because armies face significant budgetary and numerical human resource constraints that the connected system can act as a “force multiplier”. For Defense, these technologies, at the heart of innovation, appear to be a real advantage for intelligence and within the framework of OPEX (external operations). IoTs help to: control, collect and analyze information from the field. Connected networks and associated radio technologies such as SIGFOX and Bluetooth 4.0 technologies have specific military communication needs.

   At the heart of a transformation and innovation process, the issue of the security of connected objects is paramount because of their utility and vulnerability. The Ministry of the Armed Forces alone represents several markets for these new connected tools, such as industrial systems, which include industry 4.0, armament (tanks, UAVs, etc.) and intelligent transport, including the geolocation of connected ships. All military effectors can be linked (soldiers, tanks, aircraft…) with command systems (command center) off the operational ground, as well as with all tactical and operational level support (logistics, intelligence…). With the digital revolution, armies will see in the long term the informational interaction loop of military operations shrink.

What vulnerabilities of IoTs for Defense?

   Defense sees the use of connected objects as an essential asset because they are equipped with better precision and analysis capabilities. While connected objects mean an acceleration in battlefield decision making, they also give the soldier the opportunity to call upon live technical knowledge and superior capabilities. Indeed, an armed drone is able to stay in the air longer than an aircraft for a much lower cost. However, connected objects also represent multiple dangers in the field as they present vulnerabilities “because the connection of more and more objects and equipment also induces more access points for cyber-aggressors” (according to FRS cyber security researcher Nicolas Mazzucchi). Their use on the battlefield thus poses security challenges and they connected could thus annihilate the military superiority of an army. IoTs contain sensitive data that can be hacked and subjected to DDOS attacks in particular. The use of IoT thus presents several challenges, such as information sharing. They must be able to transmit information from pole to pole while providing this information at the right decision-making level and this by limiting the risks of piracy.

   Parallel to the changes in the French army, cybersecurity issues remain major for the French government with a view to better cooperation between the fields and digital. The Military Programming Law 20019-2025 (LPM) provides for more cyber combatants, “4000 by 2025” as well as “1.6 billion euros” devoted to the fight in cyberspace to anticipate threats and protect networks. As such, the addition of correlated digital components to conventional weapons will ensure full tactical security in armed conflict. The result will therefore be to combine connected objects (weapons, drones…) with kinetic actions in order to guarantee complete tactical security. Finally, with the proliferation of these tools, the strategic review of cyber defense 2018 commissioned by the Prime Minister addressed the issue of IoT, their proliferation and above all their vulnerability, thus highlighting the need for the creation of a labelling obligation or self-certification a posteriori.