back to article Small number of computer-aided rifles could be hacked in contrived scenario

The internet is reeling today at the "news" that a rare make of computer-aided gunsight can under certain circumstances be hacked into, permitting a hacker to interfere with a suitably-equipped rifle's aim. The gunsight in question is the much-hyped but seldom purchased TrackingPoint kit, a system with a Linux machine at its …

  1. Derpity

    Right on

    I think, for once, I agree with LP. Whole thing is for click bait headlines to get interest for Wired and Black Hat. I do remember watching videos about TrackingPoint and thinking it was pretty cool but as usual it turned out to be a lot of marketing. Thankfully(?) humans are still needed inline in the long range precision killing field.

    1. Munin

      Re: Right on

      Mostly because of ATF regulations; the way the rules are written, if you don't want to be classified as a machine gun or summat like, you have to only allow one bullet per trigger pull. This necessarily precludes automatically actuating triggers.

      Of course, that only matters if you want a -legal- gun that you can sell to other folks in the United States. If you're not constrained by those considerations, there's nowt preventing you from taking the same general 'tag this target' notions and actuating the trigger with a servo - which takes the human out of the firing decision entirely.

      Basically, the only thing preventing the production of a self-targeting sniper turret is some red tape.

      1. Getmo

        Re: Right on

        There's a similar system - if you want to call it that - already in use on some newer US APCs. Basically a turret on the roof with a camera controlled by a guy on the inside with a monitor and a joystick. Technically it can't fire without a human controlling it, but it does have a servo motor actuating the trigger.

  2. Dave 32
    Thumb Up

    Right on

    Excellent analysis. You know your stuff.


    1. TMe

      Re: Right on


  3. Paul Kinsler Silver badge

    spin drift.


    But in order to break the rotational symmetry (and get this `spin drift'), we also need something else, presumably gravity. So the bullet deviates right because gravity pulls it to (errrrm) sit slightly below the barrel's central axis, hence kicks off (in some sense) the bottom of the barrel (or the gas layer between bullet & barrel) harder than off the top ... thus a clockwise bullet deviates right.

    So if the marksperson were to fire whilst hanging upside down, the bullet would (to them) deviate left; while to a non-upside down bystander, it still deviates right.

    Any comments or corrections?

    1. Dan Paul

      Re: spin drift. (Coriolis Effect?)

      The coriolis effect is a possible suspect as it exerts a small force on an object towards the right in the Northern Hemisphere and towards the left in the Southern Hemisphere. That force will change as the mass of the object changes and this is in keeping with the larger bullet having greater deflection than the smaller one. This is used in many brands of mass flow meters.

      It is also why toilet water rotates in a different direction for Aussies (counterclockwise) versus Yanks (clockwise)

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

        Re: spin drift. (Coriolis Effect?)

        It is also why toilet water rotates in a different direction for Aussies (counterclockwise) versus Yanks (clockwise)


        You can also be certain that planetary coriolis forces are not going to affect your bullet outside a zero.centered error bar. This is not a fucking neutron star!

        1. Trigonoceps occipitalis Silver badge

          Re: spin drift. (Coriolis Effect?)

          Shooters on Stickledown (up to 1200 yards) at Bisley adjusted sights slightly from zero to allow for the coriolis effect at the longer ranges. 100+ years of accumulated long rage marksmenship experience could, of course, be claptrap. Take your pick.

          1. The First Dave

            Re: spin drift. (Coriolis Effect?)

            Shooters at Bisley will have adjusted their sights for many reasons, but if any of them can prove it was the coriolis effect I would be more than impressed. For most shooters, adjustment consists purely of "which side did I miss?", with a bit of "which way is the wind blowing?" thrown in.

          2. chris 48

            Re: spin drift. (Coriolis Effect?)

            That's because the earth has rotated by a tiny but just about measurable distance in the time it takes your bullet to travel 1200 yards.

            For the Coriolis effect to be the cause of the transient yaw it would have to have a measurable effect in the time it takes the bullet to travel the length of the barrel, much less likely.

          3. Wzrd1

            Re: spin drift. (Coriolis Effect?)

            "Shooters on Stickledown (up to 1200 yards) at Bisley adjusted sights slightly from zero to allow for the coriolis effect at the longer ranges."

            I've fired out to two clicks, was fair to middling, but then I wasn't a sniper. I was just familiarizing with the system.

            As for the author, I've fired UK forces L85A2 and L86A1 nice weapons. Much nicer to clear a building than our M4's. The MP5 was a fine weapon, the MP7 is occasionally used as well. As for 12 gauge shotguns, they made fine door knockers, nobody could pretend to not be home when we knocked with one. Fired various sniper systems, squad designated marksman rifles and fell in love with the M14 (now, M1A, as full automatic was removed as unnecessary and ineffective). I also performed explosive demolitions and rapid explosive neutralization.

            Fortunately, I'm now retired from all of that unpleasantness.

        2. Dan Paul

          Re: spin drift. (Coriolis Effect?)

          I have been involved in flow measurement technology for 31 years and have a rather good understanding of the Coriolis effect and it is already being compensated for in many ballistics calculations particularly as it applies to spin drift of bullets which is what the article is about.

          Complain all you want about my mention of rotation in drains and toilets, I only used that the give some reference to the uninitiated. You will note that the Coriolis effect does affect the way large weather systems rotate between the north and south hemispheres.

          At several hundred yards or more, the effect on a bullet is significant.

          Below are only a few links to pages dealing with the subject out of some 10,000 hits for "Coriolis effect in Ballistics"

          1. Wzrd1

            Re: spin drift. (Coriolis Effect?)

            "Complain all you want about my mention of rotation in drains and toilets..."

            That is a myth. Toilet flow direction is determined by the design of the jets in the rim of the bowl. The coriolis effect is too weak to effect that small amount of water flowing into the bowl.

            I believe that Snopes has a write-up on the subject.

        3. Julian Bradfield

          Re: spin drift. (Coriolis Effect?)

          demonstrates almost a foot of difference in impact point between shooting east and west at 1000 yards.

        4. Wzrd1

          Re: spin drift. (Coriolis Effect?)

          "You can also be certain that planetary coriolis forces are not going to affect your bullet outside a zero.centered error bar."

          Actually, with extreme distance shots (measured in kilometers), there is Coriolis effect present. The effect isn't great enough to avoid damaging something the size of a heart, but it's great enough to prevent an accurate zero reflex shot if not taken into account.

          Wind, of course, still has a much greater effect, which can get downright complicated with real world cross winds moving in different directions along long distance trajectories.

          As for this not being a fucking neutron star, my back and knees disagree with you in the morning.

    2. Charles Manning

      Re: spin drift.

      "But in order to break the rotational symmetry (and get this `spin drift'), we also need something else"

      Yes, that is indeed so.

      Think for a moment of the air forces on the sides of the bullet as it flies along. If they are not the same then the side with the higher pressure is more viscous and the side with the lower pressure is less viscous. That means a spinning bullet gets more "traction" against the higher density air and less against the lower density air. This puts a sideways thrust on the bullet.

      This is most notable with side winds. If the bullet is spinning clockwise and the wind is from the right, then the air on the right hand side of the bullet is more viscous than on the left. The bullet gains more traction on the air on the right and is thus deflected upwards (as well as obviously being pushed leftwards by the wind).

      Similarly for the same rifle, a wind from the left deflects the bullet downwards and right.

      Then there are a bunch of other effects some of which are only meaningful on large projectiles (eg. ships' guns).

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I wouldn't have thought that too many people are going to be keen on getting into wifi range to hack someone holding a sniper rifle (doubt they'll be left turned on and unattended at that price)

    1. Munin

      I suppose the question would be which is longer - the range of your high-gain wifi antenna or the rifle? ;-)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Under ideal conditions, the high gain antenna would win easily; but you only need some rain or a few trees dotted about to give the sniper the advantage.

        I suppose the attacker could use repeaters. Or -if the hack can be scripted so that a return signal from the rifle isn't necessary- you could crank up the power and just blast your signal though any obstructions.

      2. DropBear

        I would certainly expect the range of the high-gain wifi antenna to be longer than the rifle, otherwise we're either talking about a spectacularly crap antenna or a spectacularly unwieldy... erm... steel hose with a trigger.

  5. Caff

    wind Lidar

    For wind speed measurement it is surprising they havent jumped on to wind LIDAR, seems the Israelis have some patents on it though.

    1. Wzrd1

      Re: wind Lidar

      I've been toying with that notion myself, just lack the time to consider putting something together. Over the entire course of beam to target, one can acquire full information on wind directions and compensate for the entire bullet path.

      About the only people who could benefit from it would be specialty military niche applications.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Dead reckoning always assumes you have an accurate measurement of all the parameters affecting the bullet's trajectory - which is of course impossible. What is really needed is a feedback system so that the bullet can modify its trajectory in flight to try to compensate for errors. That apparently is the achievement of the new sniper technologies that have been developed.

  7. PacketPusher

    Metric rifle

    >>>(in the case of normal US-style clockwise rifling twist)

    Do we rifle our barrels differently from everybody else too?

  8. Mark 85 Silver badge


    Interesting concept, but if as a civilian, you don't really need one of these sights. I seriously doubt home-defense or even sporting hunters would ever use one because of the a) the cost b) the effectiveness a longer ranges (which isn't home defense) and for the hunters, they want c) bragging rights.

    As for the so-called hack, I'm wondering who paid them for this? The TrackingPoint company? The anti-gun side of politics? Or.. maybe the defense department or LEA's in a moment of worry about civilian snipers?

    Overall though, Lewis is spot on about the hack and the capabilities of the sight.

  9. Donkey Molestor X

    Wow, Lewis. Chill out. It's not like they claimed that there could be as such a thing as anthropogenic global warming or anything crazy and scientific like that.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Absolute clickbait

    This is pretty usual stuff for pre-blackhat conferences... they always pick their speakers based on shock power not actual technical prowess... did you hack a car? something that could affect BILLIONS of android devices?? A gun?!?!?!? OMG... this article is spot on however... the hackers don't understand ballistics or guns for that matter... and don't have much of a grasp of linux to boot if it took them that long to come up with such trifling modifications to the gun....

  11. macjules Silver badge

    Curses! Foiled again!

    North Korea's dastardly plans to stop US snipers arrayed along the DMZ have been thwarted by their not switching on the WiFi on their rifles and by the Pentagon having changed the default root password, plus removing 'supreme_leader' from the sudoers list.

  12. Jediben

    Clearly 'research' for the next terrible Tom Clancy-esque Hollywood adaptation, staring Channing Tatum as the expert covert ops sniper who is betrayed by his superiors into 'accidentally' (via the researched 'hack' of all things) assassinating the President of Africanistan (who actually turns out to have been a Russian plant who was trying to develop biological weapons with North Korean money) while the POTUS was visiting on a ground breaking trip to broker a weapons non-proliferation pact.

    Mr Tatum will thusly pacify many many Africanistans and COMMIES in his hunt for justice, whereby the end scene will be Mr Tatum using an old fashioned Lee-Enfield to take out a fancy TrackingPoint Kit rifle owning sniper from 900 yards and protect the POTUS.

    Then he will kill the evil 2nd in command of Africanistan (it was a double double cross!) with his Colt 45 and fly an AC130 away while the President acts as gunner, shooting the living shit out of many many technicals and freeing the people of Africanistan to live in Democracy (Woo!) and Freedom (Fuck yeah!) and do jobs for Huge US Conglomerates (USA! USA! USA!)

    Box office gold, mate.

    1. Wzrd1

      "...whereby the end scene will be Mr Tatum using an old fashioned Lee-Enfield..."

      I was going to suggest a superior rifle for that purpose and found that, due to longevity and preference of certain workers in heavily forested areas in Canuckistan despite a newer and fancier rifle removed all possible alternative contenders.

      The US has occasionally considered invading Canuckistan, but demurs due to memory of the last time folks from there tried and was resoundingly beaten and sent running away like frightened children, astonished over how such polite people could fight so effectively and politely.

      "They were amazingly polite as they knocked my last tooth out, apologizing for the necessity as I ran back south", said one of the expeditionary force from middle North America, now known as the United States.

      "They were astonishingly brash and stupid, attacking people who outnumber them by over one thousand to one, but they seemed earnest enough, we hated to see them go so quickly!", said one Canuckistan veteran of the abortive campaign.

      "We 'ardly noticed that they were here, they departed so quickly.", said one of His Majesty's finest, spoken under conditions of anonymity, as he was not permitted to speak to anyone, let alone the press.

  13. Paul Crawford Silver badge

    Amusing concidence

    Funny when I read the article the last part was:

    Have also fired 12-bore shotguns on a few occasions and was once even present at a grouse shoot.

    Sponsored: How to deal with Windows Server 2003 end of support

    Related I wonder?

  14. knarf


    If you are close enough to hack it it won't make much difference to the shot. If you far enough away then it won't matter as the wifi is out of range.

    Pointless but interesting never the less.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Could the sight be hacked so that

    All targets look like George Osborne?

  16. Rick Brasche

    and still even with all the doors opened

    they still cannot force the rifle to fire without user authorization. Which means the primary safety design was met. Better than GM cars which we were told not too long ago, "there was nothing to fear from car hackers" as they "could not" affect drive systems remotely.

    as a recreational shooter the tracking point device is useless to me. It's like google glass. the only instance where as a civilian I would want a tracking point system is one where I *needed* it to put food on the family's table and missing a shot would have serious consequences. But if I had the money to buy the TP rifle, well, I have enough to make sure I have grocery money.

    kudos to the design team to make sure that even user security stupidity does not significantly affect the safety of the rifle (the hacks at best would cause a significant miss at distance, but if you have people or animals behind your target within the scope's FOV you should NOT be taking the shot-and the hack cannot physically realign the scope mount for serious risks)

    1. Wzrd1

      Re: and still even with all the doors opened

      I competitively fire and hunt, that thing, even when it was first announced, was a boondoggle and not worth one hundredth of the price that they demand.

      Bloody hell, if you can put your sight onto the target, designate it, might as well have fired.

      The crap locks the target that you designate (if it's the wrong area, too bad, it's locked), you depress the trigger and when you manage to get your sight back onto the target area, the rifle fires.

      If you can designate that target, you can squeeze the trigger and shoot that target.

  17. sisk

    No story here

    This entire article can be summed up thusly:

    A really expensive computerized sniper rifle scope that no one is really interested in can be easily hacked if the wifi is turned on and left on the default password. So it's pretty much like any other computerized device with wifi then, except this one is attached to a gun. Not to worry though, because a successful attacker can only prevent the gun from firing or make it miss its target. Actually making it fire without a trigger pull is not possible.

  18. Sponge

    US readers...

    As one of your US readers, I must take exception to one of your statements:

    ".. some of our US readers may doubt that any Limey journo wiener could know anything of guns, weaponry, tactics etc."

    While there *might* be _some_, I think that the majority of us Yanks are of the same opinion as myself:

    I view anyone with a Brit accent as a viable hero in any sticky situation, - a potential James Bond, as it were - all being trained in 007-spy-like techniques and masters of any possible weapon - not being limited to firearms, but to include missile systems, broom sticks, bottle caps, string, silly putty, any number of pointy objects, cafeteria trays, and plates filled with food.

    Even tho' your political system doesn't allow for silly things like free men (and women) with bear arms, castle homes, the right to self-defense, and what not, I believe that - in a pinch - any one of you could buckle down, grimace, and pick up a pop-bottle and proceed to mop the floor with evil doers, if necessity called for such.

    Of course, one of the reasons you have to resort to newspapers and shoe laces is that you're much too civilized to want to freely own firearms for self-defense. And of course, you hardly NEED to use The Great Equalizer, what with the easy availability of bumbershoots and razor-rimmed bowler hats.

    However, in the event that Germany does ever launch Operation Sea Lion, I'm afraid that we won't be able to send you shipments of personally owned firearms as was our habit in the past... it's not just the melt 'em down and dump 'em off shore attitude that occurred after the last unpleasantness on the continent, it's that -- well, we don't know how long WE'LL be "allowed" to keep our arms bare without all of us being chipped, tracked, and what not. We'll have to be a little more circumspect in our lending habits when it comes to long range percussive precision paper punches and other tools of self-determination. I'm sure you all understand, and anyway, you've got bicycle sprockets and pens and pencils to defend yourselves with.


    One of the lost, in the colonies.

    P.S. I'm not disparaging other UK accents... They certainly can fight and defend also. Scots - the original Bonds, with their dirks and sgian-dubhs, the Irish, with their shillelaghs and size 11's, the Welsh, with their - eh... pixies..., oh, and delightful melodic words... and... CANES. Yes. Distracting pixies, speaking so beautifully, and then WHACK in the shins or aside the melon. Did I miss anybody? Oh, um, yes.. the.. uh, West Country...-ites. With their... cows. And tractors. OK, I am evidently out of my element here. I'm going to go have a cider and consider my sins. Ta.

    1. Malcolm Weir

      Re: US readers...

      FYI... in the UK, "castle homes" means homes that are castles. There are a fair few around...

      1. Wzrd1

        Re: US readers...

        "FYI... in the UK, "castle homes" means homes that are castles. There are a fair few around..."

        As I recall, those castles were dreadfully drafty and murderously expensive to heat.

        Quite a few are also annoyingly damp.

        I'll stick with masonry in part, wood in greater parts and reinforced with hubris, as all US homes are.

        OK, I'll be reinforcing with concrete, but that isn't as humorous or accurate.

    2. Wzrd1

      Re: US readers...

      Indeed, as having overlapped SAS and Royal Marines, rescuing and being rescued when nasty surprises reared their misshapen heads, yeah, those Brits can fight damned well. As well as we can.

      Our northern neighbors have very similar forces and they kicked ass and didn't bother wasting time on names, lest it delay more asses being kicked.

      The Australians as well.

      Aw, screw it, the entire Commonwealth are quite good at defense (or as it's spelt across the pond, defence).

      Although, I will admit to some consternation for some from Great Britain, for to be honest, I have absolutely know clue whatinhell language he was speaking. It sounded as close to English as is spoken in the West Virginia mountains, although nowhere near like the cat being strangled sounds from West Virginia.

      I understood Liverpool, beyond that, I've nary a clue what he was going on about.

      A chap from London kept trying to correct my abuses of language, but I set him straight by reminding him that I was speaking and abusing the residuum of what King George left us, undocumented at the time and only documented two years after a bit of an ugly divorce between our lands and we remained rather irritated with them after that mess in 1812. That paint bill for the Presidential Palace was quite great, having to turn it into a White House.

      Apparently, all of those bare arms didn't slow the British forces sacking our White House and Library of Congress.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    waste of time

    you have to be within wi fi range AND he has to have the technical knowledge to turn on the wifi.

    Waste of time. If you got someone that close to the sniper just pull out a pistol and shoot him. It's not like you can hack him from Utah or something.

    Boots on the ground cannot be helped. They got guns, they got badges , being a computer techie with a portable lap top and tons of skill is far, far down on the list of things to worry about when dealing with people within fifty feet of you.

    1. Wzrd1

      Re: waste of time

      "They got guns, they got badges , being a computer techie with a portable lap top and tons of skill is far, far down on the list of things to worry about when dealing with people within fifty feet of you."

      Having been inside of Eric Raymond's home, well, he's a very, very, very well armed computer techie.

      He also happens to be quite a good shot.

      Not as good as I am, being also a computer techie, former SF veteran, but still quite competent. Where he and I depart skills is, I'm proficient with all small arms, edged weapons and hand to hand combat.

      Beyond his firearms skills, the worst he could do is write a really, really nasty letter.

      As for Eric's personality, the term wanker comes to mind.

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