back to article Here's what the US Army picked for soldier-worn tactical USB hubs

The US Army has long sought to give its soldiers a connected-tech edge, and has finally settled on a vendor to deliver a much needed piece of hardware to connect the various smart wearables it plans to field.  The contract was awarded to aerospace and defense firm Elbit America for some 33,000 Next Generation Hubs (NGH), a …

  1. elDog

    "One could imagine that opponents are lining up for a try at cracking this."

    If it hasn't already begun while it was still in some TS trials.

    I'm still wondering if they have solved the problem of BadUSB (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BadUSB) where a device gets to tell the host what it is, leading to some unintended consequences. AFAIK, there are no software or controller-resident solutions for this.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "One could imagine that opponents are lining up for a try at cracking this."

      "I'm still wondering if they have solved the problem of BadUSB (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BadUSB) where a device gets to tell the host what it is, leading to some unintended consequences. AFAIK, there are no software or controller-resident solutions for this."

      Sure there are solutions or, at least, mitigations.

      We only allow specific USB classes in production systems. USB storage is allowed case by case, and only by specific mfgr ID / device ID combination. Plugging in a random Kingston into a machine will generate an alert. Of course, if the "keyboard" tries to launch a terminal and type commands - well, can't easily prevent that.

      There's been talk of getting some sort of apparatus that would be used for all incoming USB devices. Scans for unwanted device classes as well and does an AV scan for files if it's storage.

    2. Claptrap314 Silver badge

      Re: "One could imagine that opponents are lining up for a try at cracking this."

      All you need is a sane driver--one that does NOT let the device tell you what it is.

      I swear, I have no idea HOW the floppy viruses weren't enough to warn the industry off this nonsense, but no. We MUST be insecure by architecture.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: "One could imagine that opponents are lining up for a try at cracking this."

        Lessons were learned.

        But those people moved on and the new generation of hip young things gave us autorun.inf on CDs and other devices

        Lessons were learned again.

        But those people moved on and the next generation of hip young things gave us self-identifying USB devices.

        That lesson has not been learned yet.

        1. An_Old_Dog Silver badge

          Generations Discarding the Lessons of Those Who Went Before

          As we're watching the insecurity parade, let's remember U3!

          It was another useful idea with no security. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/U3_(software)

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Wearable USB hubs

    What a time to be alive.

    1. NapTime ForTruth
      Mushroom

      Re: Wearable USB hubs

      ...however briefly.

    2. ThatOne Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: Wearable USB hubs

      > What a time to be alive.

      Indeed. That I've lived to hear somebody pronounce the words "Tactical Assault USB Hubs"...

      1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

        Re: Wearable USB hubs

        That I've lived to hear somebody pronounce the words "Tactical Assault USB Hubs".

        I think the Battlefield USB Yoke would be better. Especially if it's used to facilitate tactical tweeting. I just pity the PBI who gets volunteered to be the unit's walking WiFi AP.

        (Also.. Elbit? Isn't that a totally trustworthy US company that in no way, shape or form has been linked to a nation that's been caught numerous times helping itself to it's allies technology? Kinda suprised none of the US's own usual suspects could make a tacticool hub.)

        1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

          Re: Wearable USB hubs

          At least BUSBY comes with its own acronym. It saves the PBI inventing one. BUSBY being, as you know, bub, the tall furry hat worn by guards at Buckingham Palace, and by nobody anywhere else. I suppose you could make an antenna of it

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Wearable USB hubs

        Clearly, it is multiple targeted uses of the word 'tactical' that is the definite sure-fire way to give military beancounters a hard-on (of course they're all men) and therefore ensure that they sign off on the budget for such projects…

  3. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
    Alert

    USB

    Universal Soldier Bus

    1. david 12 Silver badge

      Re: USB

      Based on "secret military technology", it's really a military system. Like GPS.

  4. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    USB in the (Royal) Navy

    A few years back, having omitted a tactical data link on cost grounds...

    "New Royal Navy Wildcat helicopters can't transmit vital data

    Crews have to land and move tactical info around via USB sticks. No, really"

    https://www.theregister.com/2017/02/17/lynx_wildcat_has_no_tactical_data_link_royal_navy/

    1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

      Re: USB in the (Royal) Navy

      Sometimes that can make sense. So figure on data rates for a TDL vs just moving data on/off USB sticks or back in the good'ol days, removable drives.

      1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
        1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

          Re: USB in the (Royal) Navy

          Back in the good'ol days, it was cheaper and faster to do data transfers/backups for large data users by Concord. A suprising number of frequent flyers weren't always the rich & shameless, just BoFHs hauling data between London and NY. I think BA even introduced a data cargo service to free up seats, but it was a bigger, louder, faster and cheaper way to move bits than the old SDH transatlantic cables.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: USB in the (Royal) Navy

      Never underestimate the bandwidth of a helo full of USB sticks buzzing over the battlefield.

      AKA a mil-spec implementation of RFC 1149. Encapsulation is harder to do, and fragmentation is more likely in many real world scenarios.

  5. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    New drill ?

    <shouty voice> Present keys

    By the left, attempt to insert key.

    Rotate key

    Attempt insert key

    Rotate key

    Attempt insert key

  6. Death Boffin
    FAIL

    Sand in the gear(s)

    Wonder how they will weatherproof those? Sand and salt water are still really rough on even ruggedized electronics.

    1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

      Re: Sand in the gear(s)

      Lots of military connectors tend to have waterproof connectors secured with either a bayonet or screw sleeve locking ring. Per the existing connectors, the data pins would have to be shorter to make contact after the ground and power.

      Unit cost would of course be several orders of magnitude (tens, hundreds?) of those of COTS connectors.

      May be they could call the connectors USB-M or USB-Mil

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Sand in the gear(s)

        I'm picturing wrist mounted mil-spec Apple watch, but with GB602 Aquaddie proof 55way metal Amphenol connectors

        1. NATTtrash
          Trollface

          Re: Sand in the gear(s)

          Really? You think? Because what I read was:

          "Nett Warrior is cross-platform, with apps developed for Android, Windows, Linux and web browsers.

          So no Apple. Slip up of author? Especially since the former colony is rather fond of the fruity offerings...

          1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

            Re: Sand in the gear(s)

            You think the DoD budget would stretch to Iphones?

    2. blackcat Silver badge

      Re: Sand in the gear(s)

      Admittedly this was the best part of 2 years ago but they were using USB-C on IVAS.

  7. ThatOne Silver badge
    Devil

    World Peace, at last

    > has embarked on for Nett Warrior with partner Microsoft

    "To access this rifle please sign in with your Microsoft account"

    Why do I see pictures of soldiers playing Candy Crush on their gear, at least those who are not currently updating and/or rebooting, while the enemies try to not disturb them?... I see officers trying to give orders through Microsoft Teams ("Sarge, your mike is muted!"), I see squaddies desperately searching the setting for firing their guns, I see assaults being interrupted by an imperious yet exiting offer for Office 365, while others desperately try to ask Cortana for artillery support, only managing to order BBQ charcoal, lots of it.

    1. Francis Boyle

      "exiting offer"

      That's what you call having a bullet go through your skull while you were distracted by MS's latest exciting offer.

  8. osxtra

    What's Your 20?

    Putting aside that it's skiffy and certifiably creepy to consider having one of these in you, John Scalzi's BrainPal from the Old Man's War series sounds like a great, secure way for the troops to communicate, though even the author talks about hacking that network in the books...

    1. An_Old_Dog Silver badge

      BrainPals

      ... like "toots" in David Weber and John Ringo's "Empire of Man/Prince Roger MacClintock" series ("March Upcountry", "March to the Sea", "March to the Stars").

      Slang phrase "toombie" c.f. "toot-zombie", e.g., someone whose brain-PC has been compromised. Such persons are forced to carry out actions against their wills (assassination, etc.).

    2. Claptrap314 Silver badge

      Re: What's Your 20?

      In battlefield coms, DOS is generally far easier to effect than any other sort of attack--and just as effective.

      This does not go well against a technically sophisticated adversary.

  9. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    But if radio communications are still unreliable how does all this help? Soldier-to-soldier Bluetooth & a whole line of squaddies from battalion HQ to the front line?

    1. osxtra

      Dick Tracy's Two-Way Foxhole Radio

      Well, it *is* science fiction, so who knows what's going on under the hood. In the books I got the idea some far-flung outpost troop could talk to sector HQ as easily as whispering to the person in the next barracks bunk.

      How that would actually get built, who knows? Would I want one in *my* head? Probably not.

      (Reminisces on "The President's Analyst" wherein the ATT robot was explaining to James Coburn how everyone in the future would have a phone injected into their brains at birth. Yuck! What if they call me at 3AM because I'm late on the bill? Or worse yet, just cut off the "service"? And how would one go about having an unlisted brain?)

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Neuralink

    You just know that Elon Musk will be very annoyed that his crazy Neuralink "device" didn't get this project (while everyone else, including the poor grunts in question, will be highly relieved). I guess (worriedly), there's always version 2 to consider…

  11. FirstTangoInParis Bronze badge

    It doesn’t exist yet!

    Reading write ups on the contract award, this hub does not yet exist. Presumably the tender was to propose a design rather than but something already made. This is where left and right pondian military procurement differs. Right pondian procurement assumes that some company has already developed such a product even though there will be a vanishingly small market and returns on investment will be risky. Left pondian funds developers to make what they want, plus there’s a massive market on the end of it.

    I despair.

  12. Surreal
    Devil

    The few, the proud, the Gargoyles: a server closet of one!

    Gargoyles, per Neil Stephenson's Snowcrash:

    "Instead of using laptops, they wear their computers on their bodies, broken up into separate modules that hang on the waist, on the back, on the headset. They serve as human surveillance devices, recording everything that happens around them. Nothing looks stupider; these getups are the modern-day equivalent of the slide-rule scabbard or the calculator pouch on the belt...".

    I imagine that if they roam about heavily armed they won't be teased too badly. By civilians, anyway.

  13. Dropper

    Rugged..

    Does that mean a $10 Amazon basics usb hub in a zip-lock baggie?

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