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December 18, 2009

Iraqi terrorists use $26 software to monitor U.S. Predator activities


True, money can't buy me love, but $26 worth can buy me plenty of lead time to get out of Dodge when a Predator is on the way to blow up my tent. According to this Wall Street Journal story, Predator drones are just as wildly popular with the Iraqi bad guys as they are with the U.S. military good guys. Something tells me that the next generation of the Predator is going to have some serious upgrades.

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.

U.S. officials say there is no evidence that militants were able to take control of the drones or otherwise interfere with their flights. Still, the intercepts could give America's enemies battlefield advantages by removing the element of surprise from certain missions and making it easier for insurgents to determine which roads and buildings are under U.S. surveillance.

The drone intercepts mark the emergence of a shadow cyber war within the U.S.-led conflicts overseas. They also point to a potentially serious vulnerability in Washington's growing network of unmanned drones, which have become the American weapon of choice in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The Obama administration has come to rely heavily on the unmanned drones because they allow the U.S. to safely monitor and stalk insurgent targets in areas where sending American troops would be either politically untenable or too risky.

The stolen video feeds also indicate that U.S. adversaries continue to find simple ways of counteracting sophisticated American military technologies.

U.S. military personnel in Iraq discovered the problem late last year when they apprehended a Shiite militant whose laptop contained files of intercepted drone video feeds. In July, the U.S. military found pirated drone video feeds on other militant laptops, leading some officials to conclude that militant groups trained and funded by Iran were regularly intercepting feeds.

In the summer 2009 incident, the military found "days and days and hours and hours of proof" that the feeds were being intercepted and shared with multiple extremist groups, the person said. "It is part of their kit now." . . . (continue reading)

1 comment:

  1. Actually, your picture is of an MQ-9 Reaper, not an MQ/RQ-1 Predator. The Reapers are larger, more powerful Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs).

    The single point of failure in UAVs is their dependence on very long C3 (command, control, communication) links - especially those that are SATCOM based. There are many in the military community concerned that an over-reliance on UAVs could leave the the US Military very vulnerable to the takedown of a large part of the force structure by some kind of hostile act - say, ASAT devices or an EMP device detonated in LEO. Obviously, the COM links aren't that secure, which is rather unbelievable.

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