Importance of Signal Monitoring and Analysis for Today’s SIGINT Systems

February 15, 2024 Rachel Edwards

The modern battlefield is undergoing a digital and virtual transformation, giving rise to a new form of weaponry – cyber attacks. These digital threats extend beyond conventional IT boundaries to encompass critical aspects, such as machinery control, weaponry, and battle systems. Military branches and government agencies must employ comprehensive cyber security measures to ensure mission success and safeguard armed forces, naval fleets, military bases, and other strategic installations. Among these measures, signal monitoring and analysis are essential operations that demand immediate attention.

Cyber threats are of significant importance to the safety of the armed forces and civilians. More than 12,000 cyber incidents against military systems have been recorded by the Department of Defense (DoD) since 2015 (figure 1). To defend against such offensives, the DoD has set procedures for critical attacks, as well as all other incidents.

Figure 1: Over 12,000 cyber incidents related to defense systems have occurred since 2015.

Growing Importance of SIGINT

In this new world, Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) has taken on greater importance. It collects and analyzes information on a growing and more diverse network of foreign powers, international terrorists, organizations, and other interest groups. Intelligence agencies globally rely on advanced SIGINT technologies to monitor and intercept digital communications, thwarting attempted attacks by non-state actors.

Artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and similar cutting-edge concepts are critical to the success of SIGINT in today’s modern battlefield. AI and ML play pivotal roles in the swift processing and analysis of Big Data, which is a priority.

Encryption is also coming to the forefront of cyber security initiatives. Innovations are being engineered, giving birth to new technologies and tools designed to gather, decipher, and meticulously scrutinize transmissions. To combat this, encryption techniques must advance.

Emerging SIGINT Systems

Advanced SIGINT is used in many systems, such as the U.S. Army’s Terrestrial Layer System-Brigade Combat Team (TLS-BCT) and Naval Information Warfare Systems Command (NAVWAR). Emerging technologies, such as the Internet of Military Things (IoMT) and the Internet of Battlefield Things (IoBT), as well as cloud computing and 5G, play vital roles in these systems. IoMT and IoBT are relied upon for military success, as they communicate data swiftly. Protecting these digital networks from cyber attacks while minimizing and reducing cyber risk is critical to mission success, as they are central hubs for emerging warfare tactics.

Equipped with cameras and sensors, unmanned aerial drones have the ability to rapidly and efficiently survey battlegrounds, utilizing IoMT and IoBT to provide enhanced situational awareness on the battlefield. Likewise, IoMT and IoBT improve the security of military bases and borders, deterring unauthorized access by malicious individuals.

As such, IoMT and IoBT technologies are susceptible to targeting due to the prevalence of IoT networks utilizing edge architectures, which feature numerous connections susceptible to infiltration and software vulnerabilities. Numerous cyber security protocols to counter clandestine activities are being adopted. Spectrum monitoring tools are also employed to safeguard against unauthorized signals that could disrupt crucial transmissions or intercept sensitive communications.

Importance of Signal Monitoring and Analysis

Protocols regarding hardware and software, alongside the management of physical access to military installations and command centers, are crucial steps to reducing cyber risk. These are merely the first line of defense. In the realm of contemporary SIGINT, signal monitoring and analysis hold equal significance, given the incessant efforts of malicious entities to manipulate signal transmissions.

Deploying essential tools and procedures for signal monitoring and analysis establishes a pivotal stratum of cyber security. This proactive approach can thwart adversaries from intercepting transmissions, jamming signals, and locating “hidden” signals.

Real-time Spectrum Analysis

Effective testing and monitoring systems serve as operational countermeasures against increasingly prevalent covert and intentional activities. Furthermore, these systems can also be employed for offensive operations to gather intelligence from adversary transmissions.

A fundamental tool in safeguarding and overseeing the spectrum is a handheld real-time spectrum analyzer (RTSA), which outperforms a vector signal analyzer (VSA) when identifying rogue signals during interference detection. Conventional VSAs gather analog-to-digital converter (ADC) samples over specific intervals, potentially missing critical malicious transmissions while undergoing signal processing. In contrast, an RTSA, such as the Field Master™ Pro series (figure 2), captures and simultaneously analyzes signal data during acquisition, ensuring no signals go unnoticed.

Figure 2: Field Master™ Pro Series – MS2090A, MS2080A, MS2070A handheld RTSAs.

Furthermore, an RTSA excels in uncovering signals attempting to conceal themselves within larger transmissions. It is highly adept at locating signals with a low probability of interception. Consequently, field operatives can employ an RTSA to monitor frequency hopping utilized in military radios and drones, as well as other missions reliant on short-range directional signals for communication.

Remote Spectrum Monitoring

Specialized spectrum monitoring solutions offer continuous and uninterrupted surveillance of signal transmissions around the clock. A spectrum monitoring system (figure 3) simplifies detecting and eliminating unauthorized or unlicensed interference signals. Through constant spectrum monitoring, problematic signals can be promptly recognized and addressed in real-time as they emerge.

Figure 3: Spectrum monitoring solutions can locate nefarious signals continuously.

Undesirable signal patterns can also be analyzed, offering an effective approach to categorizing and pinpointing the origin of interference issues. Consistent and dependable communication is of utmost importance, supporting military endeavors and the testing of advanced systems dependent on wireless command and control.

Uninterrupted and distortion-free communications are essential to maintain security at military installations, national borders, and high-value sites, such as power grids and airports. Spectrum monitoring is vital in ensuring unobstructed and clear communications for the safety of military personnel and civilians.

To learn more about the importance of signal monitoring and analysis in today’s military, download our new application note – SIGINT Cyber Security: Importance of Signal Monitoring and Analysis.

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