WASHINGTON — Insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan have hacked into live video feeds from Predator drones, a key weapon in a Pentagon spy system that serves as the U.S. military’s eyes in the sky for surveillance and intelligence collection.
Though militants could see the video, there is no evidence they were able to jam the electronic signals from the unmanned aerial craft or take control of the vehicles, a senior defence official said Thursday, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence issues.
Obtaining the video feeds can provide insurgents with critical information about what the military may be targeting, including buildings, roads and other facilities.
Shiite fighters in Iraq used off-the-shelf software programs such as SkyGrabber — available for as little as $25.95 on the Internet — to regularly capture drone video feeds, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday. The interception, first done there at least a year ago, was possible because the remotely flown planes had unprotected communications links.
Within the last several months, the military has found evidence of at least one instance where insurgents in Afghanistan also monitored U.S. drone video, a second defence official said. He had no details on how many times it was done in Afghanistan or by which group.
The Defence Department has addressed the issue, and is working to encrypt all of its drone video feeds from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, defence officials said. One defence official noted that upgrading the encryption in the drones is a lengthy process because there are at least 600 unmanned vehicles along with thousands of ground stations to address.
Officials said that systems in key threat areas were upgraded first.
Dale Meyerrose, former chief information officer for the U.S. intelligence community, compared it to street criminals listening to police scanners.
“This was just one of the signals, a broadcast signal, and there was no hacking. It is the interception of a broadcast signal,” said Meyerrose, who worked to field the unmanned systems in the 1990s, when he was a senior Air Force officer.