Research for unhackable UAVs could be used for BYOD: NICTA

The research that NICTA is currently undertaking to secure UAVs from hacking could be some day used to solve the problems of employees bringing their own devices to work.
Written by Michael Lee, Contributor

The National ICT Australia (NICTA) research that aims to protect unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) from being hacked could some day be used to tackle the problem of the consumerisation of IT.

Speaking at the CeBIT exhibition and conference in Sydney on Tuesday, NICTA director of security and environment business Jodi Steel said that the research it was performing for the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) would be made available as an open source project and could potentially see it solve other problems of separating personal information from corporate information on the one device.

NICTA was recently awarded a US$18 million contract with the US government to protect the software used to operate unmanned and autonomous drones. In Steel's talk, she highlighted the several key areas that NICTA is responsible for on UAVs, and how components are divided into areas that are trusted and untrusted.

Trusted elements include device drivers, monitoring systems, vehicle command and control, and the vehicle's file system, which NICTA is responsible for, and in some cases, such as the operating system kernel, is developed securely by NICTA itself. The device drivers in particular have a cost saving as they can be "synthesised" automatically from specifications, essentially self-writing code.

But the true benefit of the research will allow these trusted elements to be married to hardware components, such as sensors, radio controls and network cameras, that if compromised, provide an adversary with no access to the protected elements.

The same concept of having trusted and untrusted elements on the one device can also be used to create multiple device "personalities" that are segregated from each other.

"By using these forms of more assured software, you can provide these multiple personalities with greater levels of assurance and evidence, which can be important for financial and privacy transactions like health records."

Steel said that eventually, this technology would make its way to the public sector and government as NICTA aims to make the software, tools, and techniques that it uses openly available.

In the mean time, Steel said that NICTA is looking at developing new, secure architectures and improving what it currently knows about them, potentially to take the technology beyond securing UAVs and toward better secured network routers.

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