Australia's government-funded organisation NICTA will help protect the US from cyber attacks to its drones in an US$18 million project.

An international consortium won the contract, led by Rockwell Collins, with NICTA as a core member, and the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in a 4.5-year project.

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Other members of the consortium include the Boeing Company, Galois and the University of Minnesota.

DARPA is currently conducting a High-Assurance Cyber Military Systems program to develop systems that can withstand cyber threats to its drones.

"As computers replace mechanical systems in many industries, we are increasingly dependent on the functionality implemented in software," Dr Jodi Steel, director of the security and environment business team at NICTA, said in a statement.

"This project is all about making sure that such systems function as intended, even in the case of cyber attacks."

The systems developed in the program will be subject to white box attacks to expose security flaws, with the NICTA team aiming to develop a system that would help to protect the control and communications systems of drones in the US.

The US is a significant user of military drones -- unmanned aerial vehicles. Its arsenal of drones has increased from less than 50 a decade ago to around 7000, according to a report by the New York Times, with Congress sinking nearly $5 billion into drones in the 2012 budget.

The US commonly uses drones called the Predator and Reaper, which are remotely piloted drones that are capable of carrying out air strikes. Recently the New York Times reported the US had carried out a drone strike on regions in Afghanistan and Pakistan, allegedly killing a Pakistani Taliban commander.

However, the use of drones in the US has been controversial. An opinion piece in the New York Times stated drone strikes in Yemen are adding to the growing hatred towards the US and spurring people on to join radical militants.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) recently filed a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security in the US demanding it reveals information about the use of its Predator drones.

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