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17 December 2009, 11:18

Report: US drone video intercepted by insurgents

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Zoom The Predator UAV
Source: US Air Force
The Wall Street Journal has reported that because of a lack of encryption on the communications link between US Predator drones and their remote operators, insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan have been able to use off-the-shelf software to intercept video feeds from the drone's. The problem was identified in July 2009 when the US military found militant laptops which contained intercepted drone video feeds. Since the discovery, it is said that the military has found "days and days and hours and hours of proof" that the interceptions were a regular occurrence and were being shared with multiple extremist groups.

Officials say they are stepping up efforts to prevent the insurgent interceptions. Lt. General David Deptula, who oversees the unmanned aviation program, told reporters that there were inherent risks in operating the remote controlled drones saying "Those kinds of things are subject to listening and exploitation". According to the report, the Predator drones use some proprietary communications technology and this has meant that widely used encryption schemes cannot be easily added to the drones. It would also be necessary to upgrade the network that links the drones to their remote operators in the USA or Afghanistan if encryption was implemented in the drones.

The report says that software such as SkyGrabber has been used by insurgents to intercept the video data. SkyGrabber is designed to listen in to broadcast satellite data which is being delivered to users who use one way, or two way, satellite based internet connections, where all users of the service share one data stream from the satellite.


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