Tapping into drones’ video feeds was just the start. The U.S. military’s primary system for bringing overhead surveillance down to soldiers and Marines on the ground is also vulnerable to electronic interception, multiple military sources tell Danger Room. That means militants have the ability to see through the eyes of all kinds of combat aircraft — from traditional fighters and bombers to unmanned spy planes. The problem is in the process of being addressed. But for now, an enormous security breach is even larger than previously thought.
The military initially developed the Remotely Operated Video Enhanced Receiver, or ROVER, in 2002. The idea was let troops on the ground download footage from Predator drones and AC-130 gunships as it was being taken. Since then, nearly every airplane in the American fleet — from F-16 and F/A-18 fighters to A-10 attack planes to Harrier jump jets to B-1B bombers has been outfitted with equipment that lets them transmit to ROVERs. Thousands of ROVER terminals have been distributed to troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.
But those early units were “fielded so fast that it was done with an unencrypted signal. It could be both intercepted (e.g. hacked into) and jammed,” e-mails an Air Force officer with knowledge of the program. In a presentation last month before a conference of the Army Aviation Association of America, a military official noted that the current ROVER terminal “receives only unencrypted L, C, S, Ku [satellite] bands.”
So the same security breach that allowed insurgent to use satellite dishes and $26 software to intercept drone feeds can be used the tap into the video transmissions of any plane.
Once again, WSJ uses “hack” wrong. Insurgents, as they are well funded and highly motivated, spent a handful of dollars on software and are eavesdropping on unencrypted satellite and downlink signals. This isn’t a feat. It is base functionality.
As usual, it isn’t as bad as the media makes it out to be. There is no hack. There is only signal intel generated from eavesdropping on unencrypted communications. No one is taking control of drones. The sloppy deployment and management of some of their abilities, specifically the ROVER terminals and downlinks, is shameful.
Look at the large variety of reporting. This is inaccurate:
This previous dismissal of the problem was wrong as well.
This is pathetic. If the technology game at the United States armed forces is this out to lunch, they clearly need some oversight to make sure they’re not making basic mistakes in their technology infrastructure.