Hacking risk is rising ‘exponentially’ for the troops the use of personal devices, experts warn

FILE: Soldiers epidemiosurveillance the area during a combined joint patrol in Manbij, Syria.
(U. S. Army photo by Spc. Zoe Garbarino via AP)

The troops, who bring their personal tablets and smartphones in the battle are at risk of being hacked by hostile actors, cybersecurity experts warn.

For years, the AMERICAN special operators and other troops have used advanced warfare mapping applications – known as KILSWITCH and APASS – to facilitate communication between ground and air personnel. But there is an internal Navy Inspector General investigation determined earlier this year that these apps have vulnerabilities that are not confirmed, the Washington Free Beacon reported.

KILSWITCH stands for Kinetic Integrated Low-Cost Software Integrated Tactical Combat Handheld. APASS stands for the Android Precision Assault Strike.


At the end of June, the Marines issued a statement, opinion commanders only use the apps on the military-issued devices in place of commercially purchased devices – which are a lot more vulnerable to hackers and malware.

To be sure, that no devices are completely free of risk. But the exposure to the vulnerability is increasing “exponentially,” when troops personal tablets and smartphones, says Dr. Herb Lin, a cybersecurity expert at the University of Stanford, as quoted by the Free Beacon. “Those are not hardened [devices], and the military-issued Android devices need to be hardened and secure.”

KILSWITCH and APASS are available for download via the military National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency GEOINT App Store.” But many service members were downloading apps on their personal phones for the convenience, said Tom McCuin, a retired public affairs officer for the Army Reserves, in an online essay.


“After all, in a connected age, no soldier or Marine goes to the field without his or her personal electronic device (or devices). It is so ubiquitous that I’ve heard soldiers joke about in their PACE plans,” McCuin said.

David Foster, a former Marine Corps pilot, has urged the Navy and all service branches to crack down on the use of the apps on personal devices, a problem that he compared to going on a “cyber vector malaria swamp with all of these small surface cuts.”

Yet, the warning has failed to resonate.

“I don’t think people know it makes them vulnerable,” a special operator told the Free Beacon. “It is not something that is said to be widespread, the word is not yet received, and if it is, it’s not something people talk much about.”

Critics of KILSWITCH and APASS say that the spatial app Android Tactical Assault Kit (ATAK) is a more effective and extensively tested alternative. According to the Free Beacon, ATAK is the recommended program for the U. S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM).

The revelations coincide this week with that charging two Chinese nationals who allegedly infected more than 40 computers to steal confidential data from the U. S. Navy, “including the personally identifiable information of more than 100,000 Navy personnel,” said the Prosecutor of the V. S. Geoffrey S. Berman in a statement.

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