Insurgents Hack Predator Drones With Cheap Software

The $4.5 million Predator unmanned aerial vehicle and its at least $10 million successor are considered the future of America’s Air Force and a big part of the president’s escalation in Afghanistan. Insurgents in Iraq (and probably Afghanistan) were able to track the planes and intercept video feeds using $26 software available on the Internet.

That revelation comes from a Wall Street Journal report that says the Pentagon has known about the Predator’s vulnerabilities since the 1990s but assumed the local savages (not their words) wouldn’t be able to figure it out. The problem, you see, is that no one bothered to encrypt the drone’s video feed from the aircraft to its ground-based operator.

This isn’t the first knock against the Predator. The New York Times reported in March that more than a third of the drones had crashed. They also have a tendency to kill civilians. Scott Ritter has argued convincingly against the drones’ use, although they appear to be central to the new approach in Afghanistan. Better to kill civilians, perhaps, than Americans, whose deaths could sour public opinion even more. — PZS

Wall Street Journal:

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.

Read more

Elsewhere: Engadget, CNET, BBC

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