What are High-Assurance Cyber Military Systems?


Have you ever heard of the term High Assurance Cyber Military System, sometimes referred to as HACMS? If not, you’re definitely not alone. Short of those that are directly involved in military operations and those who like to read scientific journals, there aren’t a lot of people that know very much, if anything, about this particular type of program. That being said, it is a very real program that the military in the United States has been operating for a number of years now, far longer than most people would have ever guessed. The question is, what is it?

What You Need to Know

Without a doubt, you have heard something about driverless cars. Even if you don’t have a tendency to follow the news on a daily basis, there has been enough news circulating about Tesla and other driverless cars that you would practically had to have crawled underneath a rock in order not to have heard something about it. In all likelihood, you know that in some cases, the technology for driverless car systems exists, and you probably think that it isn’t very reliable, even in your average day to day type of situations. What you might not have thought of is that the military has been doing this with aircraft for a number of years. It’s also worth noting that their success rate has been much higher, but that’s a matter for a different article entirely.

If you’re still wondering exactly what HACMS really is, it is a program that utilizes helicopters that are being flown entirely by software. There is a pilot on board, to be sure. In the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration regulates these types of things, even for military aircraft. At the moment, it is illegal for an aircraft to take flight without a safety pilot on board in order to take over manual control of the aircraft should something fail on the software system. If you think that this entire program is only about being able to fly aircraft remotely through the use of software, think again. It’s actually about something much more important, and it’s something that can affect every individual in their daily lives whether they have anything to do with the military or not. You see, in this particular program, it’s not just about flying aircraft, but about designating a team to try and hack that software and do anything they want with that aircraft while it’s still in the sky.

Information Implications

That’s something that gets the attention of almost everyone. It’s because it has very real implications for the rest of the world, even if you’re not talking about flying an aircraft without a pilot. If you stop and think about the typical airliners that traverse the skies these days, you have to understand that they are almost entirely operated by computer software. There are very few moments during the flight of an airliner where the pilot actually has his or her hand on the controls and is controlling that aircraft manually. For the most part, everything but takeoff and landing is done automatically and in most cases, even the approach to landing is done by the software. Imagine what it would be like if someone were to hack into that software and be able to take control of those airliners remotely. Worse yet, imagine what it would be like if they were able to hack into dozens or even hundreds of jetliners at the same time. You could potentially have a terrorist attack on your hands that would make September 11th, 2001 look relatively small in comparison.

Anyone who was alive during that time remembers how horrific that day was and no one in their right mind wants a repeat of such a thing. That’s precisely why the military is working on this type of program. Granted, they use autonomous aircraft because like it or not, that is the way of the future but more importantly, they do it to make sure that someone can’t hack into the software used on aircraft and then do whatever they choose to do with them. As you can imagine, building a system that is incapable of being hacked is practically impossible but there are a couple of companies that claim to have done exactly that. Whether or not those claims are true still remains to be seen. However, the military is working closely with them in order to try everything in their power to hack into the software. The idea here is that if they can’t develop a team that is capable of hacking it, there is a greater level of confidence that no one else will be able to do it, either.

Final Thoughts

One of the reasons that the military has been working at this for so many years is because this type of software is extremely complicated. Even if you don’t really know anything about computer software, it’s easy to understand that the more complicated a particular system becomes, the easier it frequently is to exploit its weaknesses. That’s precisely why the military has been working for so long trying to do exactly that. Software for any aircraft these days is complicated but for autonomous aircraft, it is even more so. That’s why the goal is to try anything and everything possible to hack into the software and remotely gain control of the aircraft. Once a software program has been designed that doesn’t allow such a thing to occur, it’s considered to be much safer for use in the real world as opposed to something that has already been demonstrated to have a number of exploitable weaknesses.

What does all of this really mean in the real world, for the average person that isn’t a software expert? It all translates to safety. Although it’s hard to imagine right now, there will come a day when virtually all aircraft are flown without a pilot, at least not one that is sitting at the controls inside the aircraft itself. As previously mentioned, there are already plenty of commercial jetliners out there that have extremely complicated software systems that do more than 90 percent of the flying. These types of programs are designed to keep the aircraft in the right hands and ensure safety against potential future cyberattacks that might otherwise spell doom for military and civilian aircraft alike.

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