$26 Gets You Into A Predator Drone

By  |  Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 10:28 am

This is certainly comforting: US officials have disclosed that Iraqi militants have found a way to hack into US Predator drone aircraft in an effort that is possibly being funded by Iran. The breach could be providing them with information that could help them evade capture by US authorities, and they could be doing it for as little as $25.95.

I wish I was kidding here, but the insurgents have used programs like SkyGrabber — a program that allows for satellite data capture — to obtain access into the drone’s video fees. I guess there’s some good news here: that’s all they’ve apparently been able to access, and officials stress they have not lost control of any aircraft as a result of the break-ins.

Military officials have apparently known about the issue since late last year, when a laptop from a Shiite militant contained drone video feeds. Since then several other laptops have been confiscated with similar data found. Evidence has been found in Afghanistan of hacking as well, indicating our enemies may also be spreading this information. So, where is this loophole that’s allowing people to get in? According to officials, its in the the downlink which has no encryption. They have known about the issue since the 1990s, but never did anything about it because they assumed our enemies wouldn’t know about it.

It’s not immediately clear if anything will be done in the short term. Encrypting data would necessitate that all drones be retrofitted with new hardware, which the government says it is concerned would cause delays. Additionally, encryption could pose issues in sharing data with the military and its allies, they argue.

“There’s a balance between pragmatics and sophistication,” former Air Force Secretary Mike Wynne told the WSJ. Doesn’t provide me much comfort. Any way you look at it, our Predator drones have a serious security hole, which should worry any of us with loved ones over there that these things are supposed to be protecting.



1 Comments For This Post

  1. heulenwolf Says:

    “Any way you look at it, our Predator drones have a serious security hole, which should worry any of us with loved ones over there that these things are supposed to be protecting.”

    Right on! From what little I’ve read about this story, it sounds like, as usual, IT security was the last thing on the minds of the folks who designed and/or funded the design for this system. Too often, Information Assurance personnel are labeled as “getting in the way of progress.” Also, too often, IA personnel earn that label.

    There are several secure schema that could be used to protect these signals and control distribution. The flying supercomputers that these drones are surely have either enough spare processing power or spare capacity for one more FPGA to take such simple precautions. This is live battlefield intel, not PBS.

2 Trackbacks For This Post

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