News & Politics

WTF? $26 Software Being Used to Hack Drone Program in Iraq & Afghanistan

The <i>Wall Street Journal</i> calls it a "potentially serious vulnerability in Washington's growing network of unmanned drones."

Good morning! Today's must-read is a Wall Street Journal report on 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."

"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.

Incredulous that a program called "SkyGrabber" could present a "potentially serious vulnerability" to our much heralded drone program"? I was. Naturally, I Googled it, only to discover that the official website is down. (Apparently a lot of people are suddenly interested in learning more about Skygrabber.)

The software was apparently "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," according to one developer, in an e-mail sent to the WSJ from Russia.

For added crazy, the WSJ reports that U.S. officials in Iraq discovered the problem "late last year" and it doesn't look like it's been fixed. "It is part of their kit now," an anonymous source told the paper.

Like a lot of people who oppose our various ongoing wars, I think the drone program sounds like a good way to kill innocent civilians without ever having to see it up close. But for those who think the drones are awesome, don't worry, the military is totally on it:

Senior military and intelligence officials said the U.S. was working to encrypt all of its drone video feeds from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, but said it wasn't yet clear if the problem had been completely resolved.
Some of the most detailed evidence of intercepted feeds has been discovered in Iraq, but adversaries have also intercepted drone video feeds in Afghanistan, according to people briefed on the matter.
Liliana Segura is a staff writer and editor of AlterNet's Rights and Liberties and World Special Coverage. Follow her on Twitter.
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