Internet of Things (IoT) technology has a huge potential for the military domain. Smart devices could help better protect NATO Member Nations, detecting threats more quickly, providing critical services to soldiers on the ground or even replacing them.
However, IoT was never envisaged for defence use. IoT security is a particular area where standard IoT devices don’t meet typical defence security needs.
Rather than add military security to these small, cheap, off-the-shelf devices – turning them into large, expensive, custom-built devices – experts from the NCI Agency recently tested available IoT security mechanisms in their most robust modes. The demonstration took place at the *International Conference on Military CIS (ICMICS) which brought together national research labs, NATO subject matter experts and Industry representatives in May 2017.
Michael Street, the NCI Agency’s Service Strategy Innovation Manager said: “Our aim was to show ways of exploiting the IoT to support military functions, while at the same time addressing technology challenges in the military use of IoT.”
"The ‘Things’ in the Internet of Things typically use small microcontrollers with limited power consumption, limited processing and restrictions on their communication to the internet. This poses some challenges if you want to rely on them for something more critical than an IoT fridge ordering more milk. So we coupled traditional IoT security mechanisms with a number of other functions to increase resilience.”
Hybrid situational awareness
The Agency team used IoT devices to which they added attribute-based encryption to protect data across the network, data analytics to determine whether the security of the device could still be trusted, as well as directional receivers to determine if the IoT devices had been moved or tampered with. They also worked with multiple sensor types and multiple networks to remove single points of vulnerability, and homomorphic encryption to allow partners to query encrypted data. The demonstration used a number of possible scenarios to explore the limits and potential of IoT in the military domain.
As part of these scenarios, IoT devices collected a combination of data from NATO, national and civilian sources. The data was then analyzed to improve hybrid situational awareness, using intelligence at the edge to fuse inputs from disparate cheap, consumer-grade sensors to form an accurate, resilient picture, and using big data analytics techniques to separate trustworthy and non-trustworthy sensor data.
“Information was harvested from both military and civil government IoT sensors. The former came from NATO and national military sensors, the latter coming from a number of local ‘smart city’ initiatives,” Dr Street explained.
“Tapping into the data from smart cities provided additional situational awareness of the urban area, for example checking environmental monitors or traffic cameras. Using civil sources requires careful filtering to prevent information overload, and analysis for signs of interference or manipulation.”
Smart, resilient societies
Data from NATO, Finnish, German and Polish IoT sensors was fused, filtered based on the geographic area of interest, and presented to commanders on a big screen in the simulated headquarters, and on a tablet in the simulated field. The tablet used the US Android Tactical Assault Kit (ATAK) to visualize data on a mobile device’s common operating picture.
IoT is not only about sensing the environment. During the demonstration, once sensors were triggered by suspicious activity and data analytics deemed the incident worthy of investigation, a drone was deployed to the incident location. Artificial Intelligence on board the drone allowed it to navigate, track and classify objects autonomously. Meanwhile, a long-range, low power wireless platform (LoRa) communication module allowed the drone to report back to the headquarters over very long distances using low-power communications developed for IoT. Using Artificial Intelligence techniques at the edge reduces the bandwidth needed to communicate and the headquarters receives succinct information about the incident rather than a continuous stream that needs constant monitoring.
“The live demonstration highlighted the need for an architecture for the devices and data which can draw on the best elements from NATO and from the commercial IoT world,” Dr Street went on.
“The demonstration went down so well that after the planned event it was repeated for the national members of the NATO Science and Technology Organization’s Information Systems Technology Panel and for delegates at the Wireless Innovation Forum’s European conference.”
*The International Conference on Military CIS brings together scientific, engineering, and military communities from across the Alliance and its Partners to share information on the opportunities and threats which technology is bringing to the military CIS environment.