Siobhan Gorman, Yochi J. Dreazen and August Cole at The Wall Street Journal report:
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 potential drone vulnerability lies in an unencrypted downlink between the unmanned craft and ground control. The U.S. government has known about the flaw since the U.S. campaign in Bosnia in the 1990s, current and former officials said. But the Pentagon assumed local adversaries wouldn't know how to exploit it, the officials said. ...
Has the Pentagon never heard the old saw about how "assume" makes an ass out of u and me? In this case, for the price of a movie date with popcorn, insurgents may well be able to compromise the mission of a $4.5-million piece of high-tech hardware that is a key element of U.S. military action in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Yet the Pentagon has known about this possible compromise for a very long time. Who was it who claimed the adults were in charge? Because it's not clear that the video from the new Reaper drone, at $10 million apiece, will be encrypted to overcome this major deficit. Aerial drones comprise a third of the Air Force's acquisition budget for 2010.
Some enterprising Senator or Congressperson might want to ask the appropriate parties why we're employing weapons that have worse security options than the typical home computer network. It's amazing that some Cheeto-eating, pajama-clad teenager hasn't set up a web site so we can all watch who's in the crosshairs. Maybe that will be a function of PlayStation 4 when it comes out.