In our (justified) haste to deploy drone systems to combat zones, it appears that some important features were left out: terrorists intercept video streams from military drones:

Militants in Iraq have used $26 off-the-shelf software to intercept live video feeds from U.S. Predator drones, potentially providing them with information they need to evade or monitor U.S. military operations.

Senior defense and intelligence officials said Iranian-backed insurgents intercepted the video feeds by taking advantage of an unprotected communications link in some of the remotely flown planes' systems. Shiite fighters in Iraq used software programs such as SkyGrabber -- available for as little as $25.95 on the Internet -- to regularly capture drone video feeds, according to a person familiar with reports on the matter. ...

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."

These video streams should obviously be encrypted, but doing so would have slowed deployment, probably not because it's hard to encrypt the data as it is generated but because the soldiers on the ground would have needed specialized decryption units to take advantage of the video.

A senior defense official said that James Clapper, the Pentagon's intelligence chief, assessed the Iraq intercepts at the direction of Defense Secretary Robert Gates and concluded they represented a shortcoming to the security of the drone network.

"There did appear to be a vulnerability," the defense official said. "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."

It's absurd to assert that no harm was caused by this security lapse -- the terrorists wouldn't have been routinely monitoring these video feeds if there were no benefit. Despite the need to deploy these systems quickly, this security hole should have been patched years ago.

(HT: DS.)

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