Hack the Drones for Only $25.95!

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Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 9:13 am

Wow.

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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14 Comments

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Pingback posted December 17, 2009 @ 9:15 am

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ajm8127
Comment posted December 17, 2009 @ 9:39 am

What contractor designed these things? Unencrypted video? What a joke! I'm sure glad our defense budget is being well spent.


MichelangeloF536
Comment posted December 17, 2009 @ 10:12 am

The fault isn't the contractor's–they build to the government's requirements, which means the government didn't ask for encryption capability. My question is, who in DoD decided it wasn't necessary to encrypt the video, and why? I was doing encrypted video in DoD longer than 10 years ago, so the capability was there–it just wasn't asked for on the UAVs.


Hacking the Drones « Another Useless Pundit
Pingback posted December 17, 2009 @ 12:01 pm

[...] 2009 Hacking the Drones Posted by Luke Herman under Uncategorized Leave a Comment  Via Spencer Ackerman, this story on how Iraqi insurgents (and probably Afghan insurgents) are hacking drones for the [...]


ajm8127
Comment posted December 17, 2009 @ 12:56 pm

I just don't understand who would build something like that and not encrypt the video. I work for a company that makes UGVs and all of our data and video is encrypted. I guess the why revolves around money. Security can be expensive.

The first step to losing a confrontation is underestimating your enemy.


About skygrabber software, iraqi insurgents, predator drones, predator video, predator feeds | Find me About
Pingback posted December 17, 2009 @ 2:12 pm

[...] 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. …Read Original Story: Hack the Drones for Only $25.95! – The Washington Independent [...]


Armchair Warlord
Comment posted December 17, 2009 @ 3:33 pm

The basic model of Predator was designed and first fielded in the mid-1990s, when the processing power to encrypt and decrypt video signals in real time didn't exist. This vulnerability likely never existed in later models of drones (such as the Reaper and Predator-C), and in fact does not exist in any drones at this time – the military has known about this for months and has secured the systems involved.

It seems like the only systems in use that are still sending video in the clear are tactical video downlinks between attack aircraft and ground troops, which are in the process of being encrypted and which would be very difficult for enemies to intercept (low signal strength) and then act on as the communications necessary for the bad guys to exploit that information would be in turn exploitable by us.

The Wall Street Journal seems to have been informed of this security hole well after it was plugged – I love how they're treating information coming out of Department of Defense press releases as a major security breach. The DoD did not have to release this info and would not have if anyone could be harmed by it. Nothing to see here, folks, move along…


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Pingback posted December 17, 2009 @ 3:46 pm

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About iraqi insurgents, predator drones, iraq insurgents, software, drone video feeds | Find me About
Pingback posted December 17, 2009 @ 4:18 pm

[...] 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. …Read Original Story: Hack the Drones for Only $25.95! – The Washington Independent [...]


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ajm8127
Comment posted December 17, 2009 @ 5:56 pm

I just don't understand who would build something like that and not encrypt the video. I work for a company that makes UGVs and all of our data and video is encrypted. I guess the why revolves around money. Security can be expensive.

The first step to losing a confrontation is underestimating your enemy.


Armchair Warlord
Comment posted December 17, 2009 @ 8:33 pm

The basic model of Predator was designed and first fielded in the mid-1990s, when the processing power to encrypt and decrypt video signals in real time didn't exist. This vulnerability likely never existed in later models of drones (such as the Reaper and Predator-C), and in fact does not exist in any drones at this time – the military has known about this for months and has secured the systems involved.

It seems like the only systems in use that are still sending video in the clear are tactical video downlinks between attack aircraft and ground troops, which are in the process of being encrypted and which would be very difficult for enemies to intercept (low signal strength) and then act on as the communications necessary for the bad guys to exploit that information would be in turn exploitable by us.

The Wall Street Journal seems to have been informed of this security hole well after it was plugged – I love how they're treating information coming out of Department of Defense press releases as a major security breach. The DoD did not have to release this info and would not have if anyone could be harmed by it. Nothing to see here, folks, move along…


About predator drones, live video feeds, iraq insurgents, software, drone feeds | Find me About
Pingback posted December 17, 2009 @ 10:08 pm

[...] 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. …Read Original Story: Hack the Drones for Only $25.95! – The Washington Independent [...]


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