There is a news story out there today about insurgents in Afganistan being able to use $26 worth of equipment to capture and record predator drone video reconnaissance. At first I was pretty aghast by the following:
The potential drone vulnerability lies in an unencrypted downlink
between the unmanned craft and ground control. The U.S. government has
known about the flaw since the U.S. campaign in Bosnia in the 1990s,
current and former officials said. But the Pentagon assumed local
adversaries wouldn’t know how to exploit it, the officials said.
But then I thought about it a bit more. By the time Bosnia happened the internet was just a fledgling thing. The spread of information and cheap wireless tech was still pretty limited, and beyond that I’m sure these were designed well before that time. Having no encryption on the video signal was an oversite, but given the state of tech, and the risk, probably a reasonable call.
However the article ends with:
Today, the Air Force is buying hundreds of Reaper drones, a newer model, whose video feeds could be intercepted in much the same way as with the Predators, according to people familiar with the matter. A Reaper costs between $10 million and $12 million each and is faster and better armed than the Predator. General Atomics expects the Air Force to buy as many as 375 Reapers.
Even before finding laptops full of predator video in Afganistan, it’s pretty clear that in this day and age you can’t put any manner of sensitive information unencrypted through the air. Point to point wireless, cellular tech, and even Satellite TV have all gone encrypted in the mean time. It’s a bit disconcerting that DishNetwork has better security than new drones that we are about to put out into the field.