Insurgents Hack U.S. Drones
$26 Software Is Used to Breach Key Weapons in Iraq; Iranian Backing Suspected
WASHINGTON — Militants in Iraq have used $26 off-the-shelf software to intercept live video feeds from U.S. Predator drones, potentially providing them with information they need to evade or monitor U.S. military operations.
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.
Today, the Air Force is buying hundreds of Reaper drones, a newer model, whose video feeds could be intercepted in much the same way as with the Predators, according to people familiar with the matter. A Reaper costs between $10 million and $12 million each and is faster and better armed than the Predator. General Atomics expects the Air Force to buy as many as 375 Reapers.
Additional Insights from CBS News Beyond Wall Street Journal
The implications of the Predator’s unencrypted transmissions have been known in military circles for a long time. An October 1999 presentation given at the Air Force’s School of Advanced Airpower Studies in Alabama noted “the Predator UAV is designed to operate with unencrypted data links.”
A 1996 briefing by Paul Kaminski, an undersecretary of defense for acquisition and technology, may offer a hint about how the Iraqi’s interception was done. Kaminski said that the military had turned to commercial satellites – “Hughes is the primary provider of direct (satellite) TV that you can buy in the United States, and that’s the technology we’re leveraging off of” – to share feeds from Predator drones.
Phi Beta Iota: Early on after 9-11 it was pointed out that the cost to fight dollar ratio was $1:$500,000–for every dollar an asymmetric opponent spent, we spent $500,000. That is probably closer to $1:$100,000,000 today.
The incompetence (complacency and ignorance combined) inherent in our spectrum mismanagement is right up there with our secret intelligence mismanagement. The U.S. Government is “unintelligent” at all four levels of analysis: strategic, operational, tactical, and technical. Outside of Electoral Reform, the one place that could be making a difference is not, for lack of broad-minded reality-grounded leadership: intelligence analysis. Over-weight, comatose, completely out of touch with the basics.
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