So, Iraqi insurgents found a way to hack into Predator drones' unencrypted video feeds with cheap Windows shareware. Ridiculous? Obviously! But also kind of minor—the story was more embarrassing than alarming; a gaffe, not a disaster. Then, this.
Wired's Danger Room found the whole situation kind of bewildering, so they went to their military sources to find out exactly what happened:
The military initially developed the Remotely Operated Video Enhanced Receiver, or ROVER, in 2002. The idea was let troops on the ground download footage from Predator drones and AC-130 gunships as it was being taken...those early units were "fielded so fast that it was done with an unencrypted signal. It could be both intercepted (e.g. hacked into) and jammed," e-mails an Air Force officer with knowledge of the program. In a presentation last month before a conference of the Army Aviation Association of America, a military official noted that the current ROVER terminal "receives only unencrypted L, C, S, Ku [satellite] bands."
So the military fielded a rough, poorly secured video system on drones and AC-130s. We already knew that! The story's been reported, and late night comedians will have a good rest of the week. But there's a lovely twist:
Since then, nearly every airplane in the American fleet - from F-16 and F/A-18 fighters to A-10 attack planes to Harrier jump jets to B-1B bombers has been outfitted with equipment that lets them transmit to ROVERs. Thousands of ROVER terminals have been distributed to troops in Afghanistan and Iraq...
These insurgents didn't hack into a single type of drone; they found a cheap, dead-simple way to hack into the military's primary airborne surveillance system.
Is the ability to eavesdrop on live video streams from airplanes a significant strategic risk? It's debatable. But did this hack make a couple of dudes in a basement in Basrah feel like Angelina Jolie in (noted Western pornographic infidel film) Hackers? Hell yes it did. [Danger Room]