Thursday, December 17, 2009

*facepalm* - US Drone Communications Intercepted in Iraq

In a story that sounds like it belongs in a 007 spy novel, it appears as though some very enterprising Iraqis (no doubt backed by their Iranian, anti-US friends) have figured out that the Predator UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) that strike fear into the hearts of insurgents everywhere transmit their video feeds over a semi-sophisticated satellite network.  That video feed can be leeched off the transmitting satellites with a $26 piece of Russian pirate software.  I will pause a moment while you gasp and re-read that...


This bodes well for their efforts to evade detection, air strike or death by simply using some Russian-made (there's a shock) satellite-intercepting software called "SkyGrabber".  A quick blurb from the SkyGrabber site has this to say:
"The satellite transmits data all users in one stream. The data are accepted by all who are in the satellite coverage area. In fact, you can set up your satellite dish on this satellite and we'll receive the data, which is produced by other users.
But you say, well, well, we get the data, but how do we get the files that other users are downloading? The SkyGrabber can do it. The program intercepts data of other users, assemble in files and saves files in your hard drive. SkyGrabber makes your life more exciting and interesting." 
More exciting and interesting indeed!  What a brilliant (mis)use of technology right?  While this is a pretty cool way to get, as the site says, "free movies and softwares" - this isn't the software isn't the story.

News flash: US government is not encrypting military critical communications!  What does that say about our military's ability?  Not a whole hell of a lot if you ask me.  What amazes me is this quote from the WSJ article...

U.S. military personnel in Iraq discovered the problem late last year when they apprehended a Shiite militant whose laptop contained files of intercepted drone video feeds. In July, the U.S. military found pirated drone video feeds on other militant laptops, leading some officials to conclude that militant groups trained and funded by Iran were regularly intercepting feeds.
In the summer 2009 incident, the military found "days and days and hours and hours of proof" that the feeds were being intercepted and shared with multiple extremist groups, the person said. "It is part of their kit now."

That just blows my mind.  I've always figured our military wasn't the most brilliant at using digital-age technology, but this simply takes the cake.  How do smart, military-trained people figure that using non-encrypted communications is a good idea?  Was it a cost-savings?  Did someone do the risk-analysis on this one and say "Well, it's not critical communications data that will put our troops at risk, so the extra $50 on encryption is unjustified" ... Sadly I suspect so.

What I do find mildly sensational and amusing is the "shadow cyber-war" claim that everyone in the media seems to be taking up.  What does that even MEAN?!  This isn't a cyber-war tactic, not that the term itself has any meaning at this point that anyone comprehends (except for RSnake...) but this is simple military espionage, nay, simple surveillance!  This has nothing to do with any silly cyber-war ... it's an amazingly stupid lack of intellect on the US Military part, and an ingenious use of pirate software on the insurgents.

Wake up people... this is not an "escalating shadow cyber war" and anyone who says that should be beaten with their words.  Maybe the military should send their communications geniuses to some basic risk-analysis training? ...or just call 007, he'll know what to do.

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