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Officials say there is no evidence that flight control systems were compromised

The U.S. military makes heavy use of UAVs in many areas of the world for reconnaissance duties. The UAV is widely used in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as in Somalia and other locations. The drones are used to track and sometimes attack targets when needed.

The Wall Street Journal reports that enemy insurgents have been able to use a commonly available piece of software to intercept the unencrypted feeds that the drone uses between the aircraft and ground control. The software used by the insurgents to capture the video feeds was a $26 app available online called Sky Grabber.

One of the developers of the Sky Grabber software told the WSJ in an email, "It [Sky Grabber] 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."

The military claims that there is no indication that he insurgents were able to take control of the drones or interfere with their flight in any way. However, some fear that the ability to capture the live video feeds will allow the insurgents to track the position of the drones to better avoid attack and surveillance. The big fear is that intercepted feeds could be used to discover allied troop surprise attacks and lead to the death of allied soldiers.

The interception of the video feeds from the aircraft was apparently not a onetime occurrence. In the summer of 2009, the WSJ reports that the military found "days and days and hours and hours of proof" that the video feeds were being intercepted on a laptop that was recovered from a Shiite militant.

A defense official James Clapper was asked to assess the interception of the feeds and concluded, "There did appear to be vulnerability. There's been no harm done to troops or missions compromised as a result of it, but there's an issue that we can take care of and we're doing so."

The military is working on encrypting all feeds from its drone aircraft, but adding encryption to the feeds requires not only updates be added to the drones, but updates to the control systems on the ground as well. The U.S. first learned of the flaw in unencrypted drone feeds in Bosnia during the 1990s, but the Pentagon assumed that the insurgents wouldn't know how to exploit the vulnerability.

While the evidence of feeds found was most prolific in Iraq, there is evidence that the feeds have been intercepted in Afghanistan as well. "There was evidence this was not a one-time deal," said a person close to the matter.

Fixing the security gap in the drones during the program development would have added delays according to former security officials and would have added to the cost of the drones. Even the new generation of drones called Reaper have feeds that are unencrypted.

It's unclear whether the successor to the Reaper called the Avenger will suffer from the same issue with unencrypted security feeds.



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RE: WTF
By SlyNine on 12/18/2009 3:12:55 AM , Rating: 2
Encryption has been done since WW2 transmissions. There is no tradeoff. Its as simple as this. If it has to do with intelligence and protecting information that can be used to kill our troops, YOU ENCRYPT IT! Its not like they used an encryption that got broke, they simply did not use anything at all.

This is not a rock in a hard place or a trade off. This is broadcasting military intelligence for the world to intercept. It sounds ludicrous that it's that big of a fug up. But it is and there IS NO excuse.


RE: WTF
By donxvi on 12/18/2009 6:08:55 AM , Rating: 2
I don't know much about signals broadcasting, much less encryption of such, how do you know so much ? I don't see many engineering decisions that don't involve a tradeoff out there in industry. You obviously feel this was a "must-have" but it appears that someone that spent more than 10 minutes thinking about it, and had some position of power in government or industry, didn't.

I've learned through my years that a failure to recongize that the things other people do probably include the same challenges and non-obvious details as the things I do is a sign of an inexperienced or closed mind.


RE: WTF
By Smilin on 12/18/2009 11:55:52 AM , Rating: 1
quote:
You obviously feel this was a "must-have" but it appears that someone that spent more than 10 minutes thinking about it, and had some position of power in government or industry, didn't.


That is exactly my point. It *IS* a must-have and that person in power made the wrong decision. I do not have to be an expert in their field or do years long analysis to see this.

There is no way you can frame this as a good decision. When you start weighing pros and cons of cost, development time, technical limitations in the 90s etc you are just chipping dimes onto a scale. The need for intelligence data to be encrypted is a 50lb rock on the other side of the scale.

Put it this way: If it was a good decision would we be having this discussion?

quote:
I've learned through my years that a failure to recongize that the things other people do probably include the same challenges and non-obvious details as the things I do is a sign of an inexperienced or closed mind


Really? That's where you went with him?

We'll I've learned through my years that blubbidy bluuuuh and blibbudy-blib that you are an inferior bluh.

Let your argument speak for itself. Don't make (likely incorrect) assumptions about the person you are debating with or lend yourself some unverifiable credentials. Nobody here is so close minded that they don't recognize that UAV development is *hard*.


RE: WTF
By SlyNine on 12/19/2009 4:01:49 PM , Rating: 2
You're using an appeal to authority fallacy in your argument. Your conclusion is, since supposed experts in x field didn't do something there must have been a "GOOD" reason. If you have an argument then use it. This is like when the moon hoax believers say Jan Lunberg couldn't explain a photo and that means the moon landing might be faked.

There is nothing wrong with asking what's the trade off and getting both sides. But don't just assume because an expert didn't do it wasn't some sorta blunder.


"The Space Elevator will be built about 50 years after everyone stops laughing" -- Sir Arthur C. Clarke

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