Most of that data is highly encrypted, and it has been critical to guiding attacks on the insurgents, often with missiles fired from the drones themselves or from helicopters...They said the vulnerable transmissions occurred when troops with older laptops or handheld controllers sought a direct feed from Predators and smaller surveillance drones, as well as from some conventionally piloted aircraft equipped for surveillance.
Direct video feeds to the troops have proliferated as the military tries to rush the latest intelligence to even the smallest units in the field, and they are expected to play an important role in Afghanistan.
But military officials added that the insurgents would need to be positioned close to the American troops to intercept the feeds.
They said the newest laptops received encrypted signals, just like all the major command centers that receive the main feeds from the largest drones. They said those transmissions had not been compromised.
The officials said they had also been adding encryption, which scrambles the video signal, and taking other steps to reduce the vulnerability of some of the older systems. “But that is a major undertaking, considering that we have hundreds of U.A.V.’s and hundreds more ground stations,” one official said.
Build into the drones one or more bogus video streams, that creates some combination of unencrypted or encrypted data streams, all of which are available to the enemy, some showing terrain that the drone is not flying over, others being bona-fide video of terrain being traversed. The enemy becomes confused, the information useless.
This is what modern war is becoming. Just like in the business world (as I discussed in my review of Cory Doctorow's "Makes" this morning), the winners will be those who can innovate faster than their rivals.
How should we respond when the bad guys get inside our networks? I don't know anything about UAV data transmissions, but I think we should pay attention to the battles over hardware and Digital Rights Management (DRM) that some corporations are waging with their customers.
The WRONG answer is to spend millions of dollars and years of time creating a platform that is supposedly uncrackable, then sit back and congratulate ourselves. In a few weeks or months, some 17 year old kid in his garage will crack it... just as they've cracked iPhones, Playstations, X-Boxes, cell phones, and now Nooks. We also don't want to lock down data so tight that it hurts our "customers": the people who use the technology. The music industry just about destroyed itself by suing, alienating, and enraging its customers instead of adapting to a totally new kind of market. Electronic Arts created a DRM system for its game "Spore" that was so invasive, customers savaged the game in reviews and ran it into the ground. And oh, by the way, the pirates still cracked the DRM in a few days.
The better answer is to realize that we're in a long term competition with multiple players. Every move we make will result in a countermove. We are in a long-term competition of innovation and adaption. We should expect the cracks, adapt, and coolly play our next move.
The Pentagon conceded later Thursday that militants in both Iraq and Afghanistan were known to have pirated the unprotected video feeds. Military officials insist, however, there's no indication that insurgents in either theater have ever been able to hack into the systems controlling the aircraft, or alter the video being fed.
That possibility, that a foreign entity such as China or Russia might hijack the video transmission and manipulate it to confuse American battlefield commanders, was at the heart of the 2004 discussion among officers working for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, reports The Journal.
One American officer, who The Journal says is familiar with the talks that took place in 2004, told the paper: "The fear was a commander looking on a feed, seeing nothing, and then having an enemy tank brigade come roaring into your command post."
According to the paper's sources, senior commanders largely dismissed the concerns as they were too preoccupied with the more material threats of the day; IEDs and insurgent attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan. The enemies in those countries were not considered technically advanced enough to downlink the unencrypted video themselves.
It was March 25, and for months the drones had been a terrifying presence. Remotely piloted, propeller-driven airplanes, they could easily be heard as they circled overhead for hours. To the naked eye, they were small dots in the sky. But their missiles had a range of several miles. We knew we could be immolated without warning.
Our guards believed the drones were targeting me. United States officials wanted to kill me, they said, because my death would eliminate the enormous leverage and credibility they believed a single American prisoner gave the Haqqanis, the Taliban faction that was holding us. Whenever a drone appeared, I was ordered to stay inside. The guards believed that its surveillance cameras could recognize my face from thousands of feet above. [emphasis added]
This event isn't an aberration. It is an inevitable development, one that will only occur more and more often. Why? Military cycles of development and deployment take decades due to the dominance of a lethargic, bureaucratic, and bloated military industrial complex. Agility isn't in the DNA of the systemnor will it ever be (my recent experience with a breakthrough and inexpensive information warfare system my team built, is yet another example of how FAIL the military acquisition system is).
In contrast, vast quantities of cheap/open/easy technologies (commercial and open source) are undergoing rapid rates of improvement. Combined withtinkering networks that can repurpose them to a plethora of unintended needs (like warfare), this development path becomes an inexorable force. The delta (a deficit from the perspective of the status quo, an advantage for revisionists) between the formal and the informal will only increase as early stage networks that focus specifically on weapons/warfare quickly become larger, richer, etc. (this will happen as they are combined with the economic systems of more complex tribal/community "Darknets").
Instead of freaking out and surrendering to Taliban (since AFPAK is about to get fully crunk and see a massive rise in warrantless, attorney - client privilge free 'Drones Gone Wild!"), this may actually be an opportunity:
If "Pretty much anyone could intercept the feeds of the drones" then perhaps pretty much everyone intercepting those signals could end up on the rec'ving end of a drone's business end. Turning those searchers into targets - for surveillance, intell or righteous kills or maybe even a surprise visit from an airborne Miranda team (Why not? HUMINT needs refreshing too!)