WASHINGTON -- 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.
Apparently, the downlink between the UAVs and ground controllers isn't encrypted, which allows the feed to be viewed. Encrypting it would add to the price, isn't very easy since they use proprietary systems that aren't compatible with off-the-shelf encryption programs, and it could make sending data to troops in the field more difficult. But the best part of the story is that the military knew about this since the UAVs were used in Bosnia in the 1990s, but "assumed local adversaries wouldn't know how to exploit it". Good work there, guys, makes me proud of my Air Force.