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Military UAVs hacked
by IKE 21-Dec-2009 23:06


Some days ago Wall Street Journal published an article saying that not only that video and metadata downlink from UAVs is unencrypted but it is also routinely breached by a variety of hostiles with minimum equipment in HW/SW.

US forces have found laptops and hard discs with many hours of footage and info downloaded from the video feed of various UAVs by using a simple satellite dish, a laptop and cheap commercial software like skygrabber.---

In the US armed forces structure there is a very network centric approach where video from various UAVs (from Reapers to very small Ravens) is distributed to other aircrafts, ground forces, ships or even a single soldier. Even if it appears impossible that video in combat is unsecured where household wi-fi or satellite TV programs are protected by very strong firewalls and encryption if someone look at every aspect of this situation, this security loophole is almost justifiable.

Military spec gear needs a very lengthy certification process and when it deploy could be outdated in comparison to commercial products. The resources for managing encryption are not always available in every hardware configuration and there is always the need for a dependable product with transparent compatibility.



Wired blog Danger Room show that not only UAVs but almost every manned or unmanned fighter plane (and ground forces) have a security problems in video and data transactions. A-10 combat support aircrafts are a profound example by using the ROVER system is vulnerable to video intercept. A-10s are used extensively with ground forces and the ROVER system is the main protocol for transmitting video.

US officials downplay the importance of these interceptions but the reality is that it is very difficult, expensive and sometimes impossible to upgrade the entire existing infrastructure to reliable encryption standards. There is no real evidence of actual use if these interceptions but in the future both sides (whoever these sides are) will upgrade both the encryption and the interception methods.

PS. After this story came out by WSJ SkyGrabber in their website added this text: "You can't use the SkyGrabber for intercepting military,encrypt or private data.SkyGrabber can intercept only legal free data such as pictures,music (mp3), movie (avi,mpg). SkyGrabber is a hobby for person who grabbs satellite provider. SkyGrabber is for fun."

(MQ-1 photo from USAF, A-10 photo from Hellenic Air Force show 2008 in Tanagra)

Update: a "just for fun" paper that shows a simple way to intercept data from predator UAVs

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