TrackingPoint is a technology integration company known for marrying high-end precision rifles with sensors and software to create a weapon system that enables even novice shooters to make long range shots with a minimum of training.
It takes mere minutes to learn how to use the system and make accurate hits on targets moving up to 20 miles-per hour, up to a mile away.
Providing, of course, your rifle’s software hasn’t been hacked:
In the video demonstration for WIRED at a West Virginia firing range, Auger first took a shot with the unaltered rifle and, using the TrackingPoint rifle’s aiming mechanism, hit a bullseye on his first attempt. Then, with a laptop connected to the rifle via Wi-Fi, Sandvik invisibly altered the variable in the rifle’s ballistic calculations that accounted for the ammunition’s weight, changing it from around .4 ounces to a ludicrous 72 pounds. “You can set it to whatever crazy value you want and it will happily accept it,” says Sandvik.
Sandvik and Auger haven’t figured out why, but they’ve observed that higher ammunition weights aim a shot to the left, while lower or negative values aim it to the right. So on Auger’s next shot, Sandvik’s change of that single number in the rifle’s software made the bullet fly 2.5-feet to the left, bullseyeing an entirely different target.
The only alert a shooter might have to that hack would be a sudden jump in the scope’s view as it shifts position. But that change in view is almost indistinguishable from jostling the rifle. “Depending on how good a shooter you are, you might chalk that up to ‘I bumped it,’” says Sandvik.
The two hackers’ wireless control of the rifle doesn’t end there. Sandvik and Auger found that through the Wi-Fi connection, an attacker could also add themselves as a “root” user on the device, taking full control of its software, making permanent changes to its targeting variables, or deleting files to render the scope inoperable. If a user has set a PIN to limit other users’ access to the gun, that root attack can nonetheless gain full access and lock out the gun’s owner with a new PIN. The attacker can even disable the firing pin, a computer controlled solenoid, to prevent the gun from firing.
Sandvik and Auger’s research is alarming, as they’ve proven that there is a way to effectively “nuke” Trackingpoint via the wi-fi connection. As long as the firearm can communicate with external devices, external devices—including what could be thought of as digital mines—can be deployed to infect and either subtly alter the software so that it becomes wildly inaccurate, or it can be shutdown down entirely.
This ultimately may not be much of an issue with TrackingPoint as the company is already teetering on the edge of financial collapse and may be out of business soon, but Sandvik and Auger’s research highlights the danger of buying any smart gun.
By their computerized nature, any computerized “smart” gun can be rendered inoperable just as the TrackingPoint was in this test, and some smart guns are rumored to have been designed from the ground up to be rendered inoperable with the push of a button by either the manufacturer, or by government itself.
So-called “smart guns” create more problems than they solve.
Professionals avoid using them for a reason.