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Pig Latin, Anyone?

Pretty stunning. Militants in Iraq have been able to intercept live video feeds from Predator drones, according to a new report. What's worse is how they did it.

J. Nicholas Hoover

December 17, 2009

2 Min Read

Pretty stunning. Militants in Iraq have been able to intercept live video feeds from Predator drones, according to a new report. What's worse is how they did it.The Wall Street Journal reported this morning that hackers found a way to watch live surveillance video streaming from the drones with a $25.95 piece of software that intercepted what, insanely, appears to have been an unencrypted -- yes, unencrypted -- link between the drone and ground command.

Luckily, militants haven't been able to actually control the drones, and the military told the Journal that there haven't been any indications that the breach ended up with any actual harm done, but this remains quite the spectacular breach (and security hole).

What's more is the apparent (I can't confirm it) arrogance of the Pentagon, which knew about the bug for more than a decade but, according to the Journal, again, "assumed local adversaries wouldn't know how to exploit it."

Wrong again. CBS reported as long ago as 2002 about someone intercepting drone video in Macedonia -- on a satellite TV, nonetheless.

The Pentagon says it's in the process of or has fixed the problem, but Wired reports that might be nowhere near the case, and that the problem might be much larger than first reported by the Journal.

It appears that almost every Air Force plane in the sky sends video via an unencrypted signal to a system named the Remotely Operated Video Enhanced Receiver depended on for intelligence by "thousands" of troops at war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This is no way to run IT at war, folks, especially with the kind of money the military has at its disposal. Over and over again, top cybersecurity officials in government -- including in the military -- have told me that adversaries are becoming more and more proficient, and there have been plenty of reports about tech-savvy terrorists and insurgents. We've encoded messages at war for centuries, so why not here? I mean, eally-ray, um-kay on-ay.

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About the Author(s)

J. Nicholas Hoover

Senior Editor, InformationWeek Government

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