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Defense Technology Monitor - No. 19

Edited by Richard M. Harrison and Gabrielle Timm
August 31, 2017

At a major conference in June, Robert Cardillo, the director of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, or NGA, announced plans for a major push to automate intelligence analysis. Under the plan, the agency - which is responsible for performing imagery analysis from U.S. spy satellites - will move away from its current, large corpus of human imagery analysts (a state of affairs that Cardillo calls inefficient) toward computers that can use sophisticated algorithms to sift through large volumes of data. The move has precedent, in that it mirrors how the National Security Agency (NSA) pours over millions of messages daily to find patterns and discern what is important to national security.

Some experts, however, caution that there is significant risk to employing artificial intelligence for these tasks, because, although "it can be helpful... you could have one bad algorithm and you're at war." Cardillo, for his part, has sought to alleviate the concerns of analysts worried that such programs will affect their jobs. AI "isn't to get rid of you - it's there to elevate you," the director has said. (
Foreign Policy, June 9, 2017)

Cybersecurity experts have warned for years about the software vulnerabilities that exist in medical devices, particularly pacemakers. In the near future, however, people may need to worry about their brain being compromised as well. Several private companies - including Facebook, Neuralink, and Kernel - are developing brain/machine interface devices for public consumption. While this burgeoning technology may have excellent uses, hackers may be able to exploit software vulnerabilities and actually cause someone harm or restrict movement by manipulating a person's brain. The possibility of such "brainjacking" has already been raised in academic journals, and it's less far-fetched than most people recognize. As recently as early May, a University of Alabama professor was able to successfully help software guess the PINs and passwords of subjects by monitoring their brainwaves via a neural headset. (
Singularity Hub, June 13, 2017)

Spurred on by growing global missile threats (chief among them the one posed by North Korea), the U.S, Missile Defense Agency (MDA) is looking for new ways to defeat long-range threats. The goal is to intercept adversary missiles during "boost phase," when missiles are traveling their slowest and there are multiple intercept opportunities. And in this effort, the Pentagon's historically-troubled Airborne Laser (ABL) project is getting a serious second look.

Previously, the MDA attempted to mount a chemical laser on the nosecone of a Boeing 747, but it ran into technical difficulties (among them altitude and power limitations) in implementing the project, ultimately leading to its termination. Now, however, the program has been retooled to accommodate a drone capable of flying at an altitude of 63,000 feet and outfitted with a Megawatt-class solid state laser. Plans currently call for a small prototype of the drone ABL to be tested by 2021. (
Popular Mechanics, June 15, 2017)

The Russian government, or hackers affiliated with it, has developed a piece of malware called CrashOverride that has the potential to disrupt essential U.S. electrical systems. CrashOverride has already been successfully deployed against Ukraine, successfully disrupting one-fifth of that country's power grid last December. The danger, however, doesn't stop there. According to a new report from cybersecurity firm Dragos, the malware in question can be altered to attack U.S. electric transmission and distribution systems - and could even be adapted to attack other types of industrial control systems, including water and gas infrastructure. (
Washington Post
, June 12, 2017)