Hacked Drones: How Secure Are U.S. Spy Planes?

He also said that U.S. adversaries may have simply chosen to play their cards close to their chest, choosing to not use the information so that they can build their capability and use it at a crucial future date.

Are Other Military Systems Also Vulnerable to Hackers?

In a statement, the Department of Defense said it "constantly evaluates and seeks to improve the performance and security of our various ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] systems and platforms.

"As we identify shortfalls, we correct them as part of a continuous process of seeking to improve capabilities and security. As a matter of policy, we don't comment on specific vulnerabilities or intelligence issues," it continued.

But others say it's not just the Predator drone's video feeds that are vulnerable to hacking.

In a report Thursday, Wired magazine said the military's main system for linking overhead surveillance with soldiers and Marines on the ground suffers from a similar flaw.

Citing multiple military sources, the publication said the Remotely Operated Video Enhanced Receiver (ROVER), which lets on-the-ground troops access video footage from many airplanes in the country's fleet, relies on an unencrypted signal.

The system, which was developed in 2002, involves a laptop that receives video captured by drones flying overhead. But because the laptops were distributed so quickly, they used an unprotected link. That means the video feeds could be exploited with the same software used by the Iraqi insurgents.

We Can't Assume the Least of Our Enemies, Researcher Says

The system was developed in 2002, but because units were distributed so quickly, it used an unprotected link. That means the video feeds could be exploited with the same software used by the Iraqi insurgents.

"It could be both intercepted [e.g. hacked into] and jammed," an Air Force officer familiar with the program told Wired.

The military is in the process of addressing the flaw by introducing new ROVER units with protected signals. "It is my understanding that we have already developed the technical encryption solutions and are fielding them," the Air Force officer said.

But another Air Force officer contacted by Wired said, "This is not a trivial solution.

"Almost every fighter/bomber/ISR [intelligence surveillance reconnaissance] platform we have in theater has a ROVER downlink. All of our Tactical Air Control Parties and most ground TOCs [tactical operations centers] have ROVER receivers," he said.

"We need to essentially fix all of the capabilities before a full transition can occur and in the transition most capabilities need to be dual-capable [encrypted and unencrypted]."

P.W. Singer, a senior fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based Brookings Institution and author of Wired for War, said the hacked drones in Iraq should serve as a wake-up call.

Noting the Journal's report that military officials assumed local officials would not know how to exploit a flaw they had known about since the 1990s, Singer said, "We set ourselves up for a fall when we assume the least of our enemies."

"When you assume that your enemies are dumb, all you do is show your own stupidity," he said.

New Realm of Battle, New Security Threats

In this situation, he said, an adversary did not appear to do more than intercept the video feed and watch it. But he said that they are not going to stop there.

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