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for every spear, there’s a stronger shield

December 17, 2009

the WSJ today has an extremely interesting and disturbing article about the ability of Iraqi insurgents to hack into the Predator datastream to access live video feeds:

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.

The question is, however, why isn’t this data encrypted?  The rationale is because of potential delays in updating secondary and tertiary systems:

The difficulty, officials said, is that adding encryption to a network that is more than a decade old involves more than placing a new piece of equipment on individual drones. Instead, many components of the network linking the drones to their operators in the U.S., Afghanistan or Pakistan have to be upgraded to handle the changes. Additional concerns remain about the vulnerability of the communications signals to electronic jamming, though there’s no evidence that has occurred, said people familiar with reports on the matter.

But, given the knowledge that the device can be hacked with an off-the-shelf device (and now publicly reported in a mainstream publication), wouldn’t it be worth the upgrade to both the US military and civilian contractors?  Also, this glitch reminds me of what convicted spy John Walker once said about the military’s ability to protect data — “K-Mart has better security.”

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