Iraqi insurgents hack U.S. Drones

United States defense officials acknowledged that Iraqi insurgents successfully intercepted live video feeds from U.S. MQ-1 Predator unmanned aerial vehicles with widely available software.

The story broke on Thursday in the Wall Street Journal with a defense official, anonymously, informing them it is an old problem, which has already been fixed. The Journal says U.S. military personnel in Iraq discovered the problem late last year when they seized a Shi’ite militant’s laptop containing drone video feeds.

Senior defense and intelligence officials say insurgents were able to take advantage of an unprotected communications link in the systems of the remotely-piloted aircraft. The insurgents used software that is available online and costs about $26.

While U.S. defense officials say the issue has been fixed, the Journal quoted senior intelligence officials as saying it was not yet clear if the problem had been completely resolved.

U.S. officials say there is no evidence that militants had been able to take control of the drones. But the intercepted video feeds could show where the planes are operating.

The Journal also reported that U.S. drone feeds have also been intercepted in Afghanistan.

Officials say the U.S. government has known about a flaw in the drone communication system since the NATO intervention in Bosnia in the 1990s. At the time, the military assumed local adversaries would not know how to exploit it.

The report says fighters in Iraq used software programs such as one called “SkyGrabber” from the Russian company SkySoftware, which is designed to intercept data transmitted by satellite Internet.

The Journal quoted one of the program’s developers, Andrew Solonikov, as saying it was designed to download legal content — such as music and video — and that it was never intended to intercept military data. Solonikov said in a email to the paper, “It was developed to intercept music, photos, video, programs and other content that other users download from the Internet — no military data or other commercial data, only free legal content.”

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