Hack the Drones for Only $25.95!
Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 9:13 am
Senior defense and intelligence officials said Iranian-backed insurgents intercepted the video feeds by taking advantage of an unprotected communications link in some of the remotely flown planes’ systems. Shiite fighters in Iraq used software programs such as SkyGrabber — available for as little as $25.95 on the Internet — to regularly capture drone video feeds, according to a person familiar with reports on the matter.
This is happening in Iraq, and it’s a pretty safe bet that it could happen in Afghanistan and Pakistan, if it’s not already. U.S. military officials in Iraq discovered the drone penetration in the summer. “There’s been no harm done to troops or missions compromised as a result of it,” an anonymous senior defense official told The Wall Street Journal, “but there’s an issue that we can take care of and we’re doing so.”
Reassured? The vulnerability is inherent in the drone program, which sends imagery captured by the unmanned planes to their pilots hundreds or thousand miles away. The Air Force says it’s got a new system — with the baroque name Gorgon Stare — that appears to build redundancy into the process. But this gives cause for concern:
The potential drone vulnerability lies in an unencrypted downlink between the unmanned craft and ground control. The U.S. government has known about the flaw since the U.S. campaign in Bosnia in the 1990s, current and former officials said. But the Pentagon assumed local adversaries wouldn’t know how to exploit it, the officials said.
Yeah, who could possibly be as smart as Americans, right? This ought to be the subject of immediate congressional hearings. As The Journal points out, the Air Force is (somewhat reluctantly) accepting that unmanned flights are the service’s future. Can that future really be compromised by a $26 hack and ignorant, arrogant, xenophobic assumptions?
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