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

Year-long publicity effort hits bullseye ... in a way

Comment: Maybe not the most glorious bit of 'hacking' ever

So what have we got here?

Basically a very rare system can be hacked in very rare circumstances and this will very, very rarely actually be useful or have any serious consequences for anyone.

This isn't a piece of security research/hacking that was carried out to increase security, then. So why was it carried out?

You would have to say, it looks as though it was carried out pretty much solely for reasons of publicity. The method of feeding stuff to WiReD in advance of public announcement is straight out of the "tech" marketing/PR manual. And it has sort of worked, in that Sandvik and Auger have got their names all over the internet.

But it's possible to suggest that this hasn't exactly covered the pair in glory. It's possible to suggest that a good hacker, like a good programmer, needs to understand not just coding but what the code is doing and how it is doing it.

Sandvik and Auger plainly don't have any firm grasp of what the TrackingPoint system does or how it works, despite apparently spending a year hacking it. They're basically mucking about randomly with something they don't understand.

At least under some definitions of "hacking", that's not actually hacking at all. ®


The TrackingPoint system includes a laser rangefinder and other sensors, and automatically compensates for atmospheric conditions and range to the target. It also includes image stabilisation and a trigger cutout which won't let the user take a shot until he or she is on target.

What the TrackingPoint can't do anything about is wind, the real bugbear of the long-range marksman. A user can input estimated or measured values for wind, but there's no way to know what the wind is doing all along the bullet's line of flight, so this offers no better capability than the educated guesswork which is - almost always - the only way of compensating for windage.

In fact, then, the TrackingPoint merely automates some tedious but simple calculations which anyone can carry out using tables (or more commonly these days, a phone or tablet) before manually adjusting their sights to get the same benefits. The trigger control compensates for some mistakes that bad shooters tend to make, involving pulling the trigger when the sights are not on the target.

But a TrackingPoint system is heavy, complicated, extremely expensive and has a short battery life, so it has sold poorly - and indeed the company appears to be in serious trouble.

A scope with similar capabilities to the TrackingPoint is included in the US Army's XM-25 Judge Dredd style smartgun, a rather more interesting weapons development, which has been on the verge of introduction to service for some years now.

Experience has shown that some of our US readers may doubt that any Limey journo wiener could know anything of guns, weaponry, tactics etc. So, for the record, your correspondent's canned death-tech CV:

Only significant childhood experience firing a Lee Enfield .303 at the age of five and getting knocked flat on my arse (irresponsible but popular uncle involved). Member of the pistol club at university, mostly shooting .22 target weapons but heavier pistols on occasion (a while ago obviously, that).

During early Territorial involvement gained some familiarity with the old British 7.62mm SLR (aka FN FAL for non Brits), 7.62mm Light Machine Gun (Bren gun but shooting NATO rounds), 9mm Sterling submachinegun, all now long retired.

Eleven year Royal Navy service career, for most of which I had to stay current on the Browning 9mm pistol and 5.56mm SA80 rifle/"Individual Weapon" (for most of that time, the widely reviled L85A1 version rather than the new good A2 from Germany). Commando qualified, and as such also thoroughly familiar with the SA80 L86A1 "Light Support Weapon" (nowadays regarded as a marksman weapon rather than squad-auto, as the L86A2); also handled and fired 7.62mm general-purpose machine gun (FN MAG for non-Brits). Some idea how to use that latter in the sustained fire mode with dial sight.

Other things I have fired but do not know well at all: 30mm Oerlikon cannon, Sig-Sauer 9mm pistol, .45 Colt pistol, H&K MP5 submachinegun.

Also acquainted with many other kinds of weaponry, almost all other kinds in fact, but mostly from the point of view of the Explosive Ordnance Disposal operator rather than the user.

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

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