With sensors spread out on smart devices across its aircraft, drones and vehicles, Air Force officials are looking to better manage the data collected and ensure mission effectiveness before deploying new sensors.

Frank Konieczny, the Air Force chief technology officer, is making a push to take better stock of the Internet of Things (IoT) devices deployed across the service, which may include running a research program for a gateway capability to merge together sensor data.

Air Force CTO Frank Konieczny
Air Force CTO Frank Konieczny

“We have all sorts of old IoT devices out there. You’d be surprised how many ‘dumb sensors’ we have out there,” Konieczny said at a Tuesday AFCEA conference. “We’re trying to figure out other authentication methods. We’re progressing down that path trying to authenticate and push together various ways of looking at all sensors together. We have to figure out a way of fusing all the information together so that it makes sense”

The Air Force is looking for improved trend analysis and mission effectiveness before deploying the new sensors its already developed to ensure IoT devices are secure from malicious cyber attacks.

Having to work with multiple security protocols for its current ‘dumb’ sensors rather than a singular system is slowing down the pace of testing updated sensors on the Air Force’s aircraft and drones.

“We are looking at a few ways of consolidating various IoT devices into a broker, if you will. Then having the broker have some intelligence in it to understand what’s going on, and to give us better readings of the specific threats to particular devices,” Konieczny said.

A broker system, or gateway, would streamline coding for IoT security protocols and assist with building in intelligence capabilities to make for more efficient use of sensor data.

Konieczny said he was recently in Silicon Valley to see current industry capabilities for gateway systems to improve data trend analysis.

David Mordecai, a co-managing member of data analytics investment firm Numerati Partners, believes a new broker capability for merging old and new sensors will help move away from a “push and patch” agile development, which opens up greater security concerns for IoT devices.

“As you build sockets to try to get the old stuff to talk to the new stuff, you’re now exposing the old stuff to the same vulnerabilities that you may have with the new stuff,” Mordecai said at a panel on IoT acquisition at the same AFCEA event. “I understand the need for agile push-and-patch development to some degree. I’m quite wary of the way that it’s used both from a product liability security standpoint as well as just a plain old ecosystems stability standpoint.”

Air Force officials are now prioritizing mission effectiveness as the top factor for the cost-benefit analysis in rolling out new sensors on IoT devices, according to Konieczny.

“Will they actually support the mission better than we have right now, that’s going to be the question. The return on investment is mission effectiveness,” Konieczny said.

With malicious actors targeting smart devices to disrupt aircraft or vehicle functions, the Air Force CTO said the emphasis now is on gathering all relevant risk factor data to identify the most pressing sensor threats.

“The idea is to start gathering data on the mission threat to evaluate risk factors for the mission threat. And one of those risk factors is going to be based on the sensors coming off all IoT devices. That means not only servers, but also tanker trucks, airplanes, the runways and everything else to associate this with the complete mission threat,” Konieczny said.

The Air Force’s mission defense teams will be tasked with identifying cyber threats and relaying where vulnerabilities may pose the greatest risk to operations.

“We have lots of sensors that we’re not utilizing yet that we will eventually start progressing down the path as soon as we get to more sophistication of the mission defense teams,” Konieczny said.