Most U.S. Drone Feeds Aren’t Encrypted

Wired’s Noah Shachtman and David Axe report that the U.S. military hasn’t yet encrypted the transmissions of the majority of its drones, fully four years after militants were found to be accessing drone video feeds.

“Military officials have known about — and mostly shrugged off — the vulnerability since the development of the Predator in the 1990s,” Schachtman and Axe write. “But the problem drew increased attention in 2008, when drone video footage was found on the laptops of Shi’ite militants in Iraq, who were able to intercept the feed using a piece of $26 software. The Pentagon and the defense industry assured the public that they’d close the hole by retrofitting the robotic aircraft with new communications protocols and encrypted transceivers that would keep the video from being intercepted again.”

“However, four years later only 30 to 50 percent of the Predator and Reaper drones are using fully encrypted transmissions,” writes TG Daily’s Shane McGlaun. “The entire fleet won’t move to encrypted communications until 2014, with drones operating overseas the first in line for updates.”

“As Noah Shachtman and David Axe write … transmissions sent from drones to command centers can be routed either via satellite or with Common Data Link radio signals, although full encryption is only applied in the former,” RT reports. “‘Standard unencrypted video is basically a broadcast to whoever can figure out the right carrier frequency, so essentially, we are simulcasting to battlefield commanders and the opposing force. If that opposing force knows we can see them and from where, they can take better evasive maneuvers,’ a source involved in Navy UAVs tell Wired.”

Jeff Goldman
Jeff Goldman
Jeff Goldman has been a technology journalist for more than 20 years and an eSecurity Planet contributor since 2009.

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