Drone TV — The #1 Show in Iran, Afghanistan and Iraq

drone-pilot

This story is just stunning…

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.

I guess in a sense I’m not surprised by the revelation; but that doesn’t stop me from having my stomach drop out thinking about the bad guys watching American intel operations while under way. If they have this technology in Iraq and Afghanistan, they certainly have it in Pakistan where the AQ and Talib chieftans are holed up.

Here are some of the details of the awesome WSJ story…

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.

Last December, U.S. military personnel in Iraq discovered copies of Predator drone feeds on a laptop belonging to a Shiite militant, according to a person familiar with reports on the matter. “There was evidence this was not a one-time deal,” this person said. The U.S. accuses Iran of providing weapons, money and training to Shiite fighters in Iraq, a charge that Tehran has long denied.

The militants use programs such as SkyGrabber, from Russian company SkySoftware. Andrew Solonikov, one of the software’s developers, said he was unaware that his software could be used to intercept drone feeds. “It was developed to intercept music, photos, video, programs and other content that other users download from the Internet — no military data or other commercial data, only free legal content,” he said by email from Russia.

This clearly falls into the “cyber vulnerability” realm, and I’ve got our boy Kevin Coleman on the case. We’ll be updating this story as details emerge, but clearly this is the opening salvo in low-cost exploitation of our most high-tech assets and should be locked up before the administration sends even more drones to Afghanistan for operational overwatch.

— Christian

12 Comments on "Drone TV — The #1 Show in Iran, Afghanistan and Iraq"

  1. Really. A single AES .DLL and two lines of code to prevent this.

  2. "But the Pentagon ASSUMED local adver saries wouldn’t know how to exploit it, the officials said."

    Heres the problem, shouldn't people learn by now that you can't assume things. Ever.

  3. Its not fancy but you can't beat a recon team and a big radio.

    Bigger question. If the Taliban can do this on a low tech level then what does this mean for next gen weapons like unmanned bombers and X-47B?

  4. This gives us a small hint of the huge risks in relying on networks, satellites, and interdependent technologies. Interdependence means many potential vulnerabilities – and a $25 piece of software can render the whole million-dollar edifice useless.

    I sure hope we've got some plan to keep China from destroying our satellites… or to operate successfully without them.

  5. This is freakin rediculous! They need to fix this ASAP! Just the glimpse (and I'm hoping it was just a glimpse) into what our drones see is completely unacceptable!

    I can only imagine what the insurgents have been able to learn about how we employ our drones from watching these feeds!

  6. Lord… if it's that easy to find and view the feed, it means it's just as easy, with the right equipment, to flood that frequency with noise and make the drone useless.

    Nice to think that 36% of the Air Force's budget could be disabled by a technologically competent foe.

  7. Seriously…what sort of MORON in the Pentagon approves an surveillance system streams out unencrytped signals? What OTHER such IDIOT decisions are we going to find out about next?

  8. Looks like the Pentagon has already addressed this issue according to reporting by Defense News. See here:

    http://www.defensenews.com/story.php?i=4423871&am

  9. They've intercepted the signals coming off the drone, how big of a leap is it to interfere or override with the command signals going to the drone?

    Asymmetric enemies do not have to rely on a slow and costly acquisitions system, getting the gear could be as simple as raiding the local radio shack or television station.

    While this is would certainly be a challenge to pull off in Afghanistan, due to the lack of radio shacks, television stations, or anything other then rocks, it wouldn't be a challenge should we have to fight another insurgency in an area with more stuff to steal.

  10. It’s easy to encrypt on the drone. It’s hard to modify several thousand ground and air terminals. It’s terrifyingly hard to reliably do secure key distribution to several thousand ground and air terminals.

  11. Also, note that the software has been around for 15+ years, I strongly suspect it's not written in a dot net language, it's probably not even object oriented, you need more that two lines of code and a dll. that said, in 15 years time even a worthless programmer should be able to fix it…

  12. What happens when we are in a comms denied environment? UAVs go away and we are back to humans.

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