Insurgents hack U.S. drones using $26 software

Posted Dec 17, 2009 by Andrew Moran
As the United States military orders more military operations using unmanned drones, insurgents have adopted a counter strategy to hack those drones: $26 software.
MQ-1 Predator UAV With Hellfire Missiles
The Predator and the Reaper 'drones' are equipped with an air-to-ground version of the Hellfire anti-tank missile .
Unmanned military drones have increased since President Barack Obama was inaugurated and recently, as Digital Journal reported, the White House authorized the Central Intelligence Agency to expand unmanned aerial drones in Pakistan. The President has also allotted $3.8 billion in drone purchases.
Insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan have been able to hack into live video feeds of the US military conducting drone aircrafts and US defense officials have realized they’re using widely available software, according to the Wall Street Journal.
However, the US defense official stated it was old news and that it is fixed after the military captured one militant's laptop containing drone video feeds. But one official doesn’t know if the problem is completely resolved.
The anonymous defense official said, “There did appear to be a vulnerability. There's been no harm done to troops or missions compromised as a result of it, but there's an issue that we can take care of and we're doing so.”
The Guardian reports that the insurgents were able to hack in an unprotected communications link of the drones and use a certain software program that costs only $26 called “SkyGrabber.” Even though the hackers wouldn’t be able to take control of the aerial aircraft, they still could identify where the planes were operating.
“SkyGrabber” is a Russian program designed by SkySoftware, which is designed to intercept data transferred by satellite Internet, notes Voice of America. Andrew Solonikov, a program developer, stated that the program was designed to download legal content and was never intended to intercept military data.
The US Air Force is now buying 375 Reaper drones and replacing the older Predator models because the former is much faster. But, according to the experts who are most familiar with the aircrafts, the newer drones’ video feeds can still be hacked much like the original ones. Each Reaper is estimated to cost between $10 million and $12 million.