The F-15 is a legendary air superiority platform with an unscathed combat record and the title for fastest fighter jet in the U.S. arsenal. It, along with a limited number of F-22 Raptors, represent America’s dog fighting force, as these two aircraft are the only platforms built to fill the primary role of air-to-air interceptors.
When it comes to white-knuckle flying, few foreign fighters can stand and swing with the F-15, but as a small group of hackers recently proved, foreign militaries may not need a billion-dollar fighter program to take down America’s 4th generation workhorse; all they really need is a small group of highly skilled hackers, some pizza, and plenty of iced coffee.
The team of hackers were brought together by a digital defense contractor known as Synack, who held a series of “Hack the Pentagon” and “Hack the Air Force” competitions for ethical hackers to participate in and help identify security threats primarily in public-facing DoD websites and similar applications. Some participants were then chosen for further vetting, asked to sign non disclosure agreements, and asked to hack into more sensitive systems, including the F-15 in a previous event.
This time, the team were granted access to an F-15’s Trusted Aircraft Information Download Station (TADS), which is digital relay component (that costs around $20,000). The intent behind giving the team direct access to the hardware was simple: Chinese intelligence assets could likely gain access to large enough portions of the F-15’s supply chain to determine what type of hardware can be found in the TADS, so by allowing hackers to exploit one of these systems, they were able to replicate the efforts of a broader espionage ring.