recommended reading

The Next U.S. Weapon at Sea Could Be Music

argus/Shutterstock.com

The next Cuban missile crisis could be resolved through the power of music rather than an armed standoff between nuclear powers, military officials and researchers speculate.

It is believed that sound waves can "jump the air gap” -- or hack a machine that is not on a network -- to paralyze a ship's control systems. Instead of using a blockade or firing Tomahawk missiles to prevent Russia from delivering weapons to Cuba, the United States could use malicious tones. 

"This is where you talk about fleets coming to a stop. Our ships are floating SCADA systems," retired Capt. Mark Hagerott, deputy director of cybersecurity for the U.S. Naval Academy, said at a summit in Washington organized by Government Executive Media Group. He was referring to supervisory control and data acquisition systems that control industrial operations. "That would disrupt the world balance of power if you could begin to jump the air gap," Hagerott said. 

It’s conceivable sound waves can be transformed into malicious electrical signals. An air disruption causes the diaphragm of a speaker to create an electrical signal made up of ones and zeros. Targeted ones and zeros can override a computer-driven ship. 

Taking down a SCADA system "gives you a nonlethal warfare capacity at sea," Peter Singer, a Brookings Institution national security analyst, said in an interview after speaking at the Defense One Summit. A president could say, for example: “Don't let this enemy fleet seize these island chains but also don't let it turn into a shooting war.” It would warn the adversary that if it crosses a certain boundary, the United States will flip the switch. "Now their ship is floating but you haven't killed anyone," Singer said. 

Even the Stuxnet virus, an alleged U.S.-Israel creation that breached an air-gapped Iranian nuclear production system, required more proximity. Someone inserted an infected jump drive that made the nuclear centrifuges go haywire. 

Onboard, "you think you are secure. You didn't put a flash drive in. There's no wires,” Hagerott said.

This story has been updated to include more specific details.

(Image via argus/Shutterstock.com)

Threatwatch Alert

User accounts compromised

1 Million Online Gaming Accounts Exposed

See threatwatch report

JOIN THE DISCUSSION

Close [ x ] More from Nextgov
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from Nextgov.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Modernizing IT for Mission Success

    Surveying Federal and Defense Leaders on Priorities and Challenges at the Tactical Edge

    Download
  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

    Download
  • Effective Ransomware Response

    This whitepaper provides an overview and understanding of ransomware and how to successfully combat it.

    Download
  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

    Download
  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.