Small Wars Journal

Insurgents hack U.S. drones

Insurgents hack U.S. drones - Siobhan Gorman, Yochi J. Dreazen and August Cole, Wall Street Journal.

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.

U.S. officials say there is no evidence that militants were able to take control of the drones or otherwise interfere with their flights. Still, the intercepts could give America's enemies battlefield advantages by removing the element of surprise from certain missions and making it easier for insurgents to determine which roads and buildings are under U.S. surveillance. The drone intercepts mark the emergence of a shadow cyber war within the U.S.-led conflicts overseas. They also point to 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...

More at The Wall Street Journal.



Believe this situation is pretty synonymous with our Joint dependency on satellite GPS and communications. But fixing this will be a lot easier and cheaper than defending our satellites. ;)

IMO, only first string foes are truly capable of defeating those satellites or our UAS. And there are many MADdening reasons why we never fight those foes.

Here's the latest:


I guess that I was confused on why this report is suprising. I provided one anecdote to show that we could have forecasted it. Plus, given all one can do with a labtop and Ipod these days, I just assume anything unclassified or unencrypted is up for grabs.

There's many times when I wondered why my adversary's actions fell far short of my projected enemy most likely course of action. I can't say that I complained too badly :), but sometimes it's good not to have to fight the first string team.


Mike F,

A lot of things were different in 2006. "The department of defence constantly evaluates and seeks to improve the performance and security of our various ISR systems."

Of course, we could overreact to this story and stick with nothing but manned reconnaissance aircraft and Bradley reconnaissance squadrons...but don't they make noise to create early warning? Can't FM be jammed and what happens to the jammer after a few minutes? Once manned systems pass by on a short patrol or reconnaissance, the bad guys can still come out of hiding while Mr. Predator has hours more time on station.

We could argue that we will always have uncertainty and the resulting close combat. Who needs those new-fangled ISR systems. We just need more armor and full speed ahead, especially for tanks. Never mind their nearby combat arms and enabling brethren are next to them with far less protection. Never mind that the extra armor weight will mean far more fuel convoys hit guessed it...close combat ambushes and IEDs caused by uncertainty.

Any argument about new or old technology and concepts of warfighting can be twisted to fit your agenda, branch, and experiences. Since you did it in Desert Storm and in OIF/OEF, it couldn't possibly be improved upon, right?

BTW, not picking on your argument Major Mike F. I learned something about why UAS are evolving away from unencrypted C-Band that a commercial satellite dish might receive.

Wonder how many al Qaeda types decided not to go out and plant IEDs back in 2006 OIF because their satellite TV went fuzzy? Apparently not enough considering how many were killed by manned-unmanned teaming. And sure seem to be lots of Pakistani taliban getting hit by ordnance?

Back in 2006, we learned that the Iraqis had early warning on our UAVs. Either their TV screens went fuzzy or they got the direct feed when UAVs were in range b/c the frequencies were very close to the one's used by the different TV stations. Just something to keep in mind about our perceived technological advantages.

Anonymous (not verified)

Sat, 12/19/2009 - 12:31am

Is this really of all that much value to the adversary on the ground?

I'm envisioning insurgents having the following conversation while they intercept a UAV feed during a raid...

<blockquote><em>"Muhammad, look at the TV screen. The American dogs have us surrounded. Look, they're kicking our door in. The joke is on them. We see what their HQ is seeing. Praise Allah!"</em></blockquote>

... followed by American troops barging in and zip-tying them.

From a Guardian article earlier today:

"Air force Lieutenant General David Deptula, deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, said: "Any time you have a system that broadcasts information using omnidirectional signals, those are subject to listening and exploitation. One of the ways we deal with that is encrypting signals.""

"When asked about the problem, a Pentagon spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Mark Wright, indicated that it had been addressed. He said: "The department of defence constantly evaluates and seeks to improve the performance and security of our various ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] systems. As we identify shortfalls, we correct them as part of a continuous process of seeking to improve capabilities and security.""