WASHINGTON – Iraqi insurgents have intercepted live video feeds from unmanned Predator drones, tapping a key component of the Pentagon’s vaunted surveillance and weapons system with a $26 program available on the Internet.
Militants did not hack into any military communications systems, officials said, but instead were able to view raw satellite feeds of live video shot by cameras on the 27-foot-planes. The drones, flown by pilots based in the U.S., use satellite feeds to transmit video.
Officials said they only have evidence that video feeds were intercepted in Iraq and do not believe any feeds were intercepted in Afghanistan or Pakistan.
They said video links in key areas have been encrypted since the intercepts were discovered in 2008, with other systems in the process of being protected so they can no longer be intercepted so easily.
According to the Wall Street Journal, which first reported the intercepts Thursday, insurgents used a program called SkyGrabber, made by a Russian company for downloading music, photos and video from the Internet.
A computer belonging to an insurgent captured in Iraq contained files of intercepted drone feeds, the newspaper reported.
There is no evidence that insurgents were able to put the information to any practical use, Pentagon officials said. The feeds did not include targeting or location data. The quality of the intercepted video was poor, the officials said.
It is not clear whether insurgents were able to determine which feeds they were intercepting or which areas they covered, according to officials.
Still, the intercepts were a wake-up signal to the Pentagon to upgrade its encryption efforts to ensure that adversaries cannot continue to view video feeds.