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Published:December 22nd, 2009 09:17 EST
Unmanned Predator Drones

US Unmanned Predator Drones Hacked in Iraq

By Sean Beelzebul

US Unmanned Predator Drones Hacked in Iraq

The United States military uses highly advanced unmanned aircraft called Predators " which can be piloted via satellite from remote military personnel many miles away from the drone. This technology has been incredibly useful for research, assault and reconnaissance, since when the units are targeted by enemy forces, there is no risk of human casualty on the user`s side. Last Thursday it was revealed to the Wall Street Journal that there have been huge security issues with the Predator drones.

Normal operators of the Predator drones collect their data by live visual feeds of the terrain and environment of enemy territory via hi-tech cameras attached to the aerial machines. Normally such data feeds would be encrypted so that the information could not be shared, pried into, or stolen by the very enemies they have been used to search out and spy. When the units were put into operation it was decided that the drones should not use such encryption as the live feeds became much slower and less accurate for data interpretation. For example, if a drone was being used to scout out nests of enemy infantry, reliable up-to-date information is required to make tactical decisions. If the feed is too slow the information would be inaccurate and decisions made based on the data from the drones would be risky. Unfortunately, this scenario is the least of the American military`s concerns about the drones. It was discovered late last year that drones could easily be hacked into. The hackers reportedly used a Russian made computer program called Sky Grabber " designed to allow people in isolated areas to tap into satellites for TV and internet information. The hackers simply applied the program to the satellites used to control the drones and tapped into the feeds as a measure of defense against the American forces. One of the developers, Andrew Solonikov, for Sky Grabber was interviewed by CNN and informed that: "The software is intercepting data received from a satellite dish -- it doesn`t say whether or not the data is classified, let alone that it is military data," he also informed CNN he did not know how to solve the problem and that it was not intended to be used this way. According to the Wall Street Journal the software is available over the internet for 26$. Thus, this huge security breach in the American Military`s drone systems has seriously reduced the drones` efficacy on the battlefield.

Given that the nature of the problem was discovered late last year, and that it is suspected that this type of security breach has been opened since the 1990`s based on information similar to the findings in Iraq in other conflicts, I believe the US has solved the problem with one of two methods. Either they have begun to use a sophisticated encryption coding for the information feeds used in the drones, or they have updated the technology altogether with some other method that the public is not privy to know.  When officials were asked about the subject, they responded with little information, stating that the problem has already been resolved. If the drones are still in operation, then they have mostly likely just added encryption to the feeds. Unfortunately, even the most sophisticated encryption cannot stop a sophisticated hacker. The new question and focus should be: just how sophisticated are the Information Systems of Al Qaeda and the forces in Iraq? Perhaps, the American government underestimated their abilities. While, the Sky Grabber security breach is a pressing issue, correctly gauging the Information Systems capabilities of the enemy is also a pressing issue, and if it is left unattended could cause similar problems in the future.