U.S. Knew Of Downed Drones Vulnerabilities And Iran Says It Did Too
One day after Iran claimed to have brought down an advanced U.S. RQ-170 Sentinel drone, Public Intelligence received an Air Force report saying the drone suffers from many electronic vulnerabilities (via Jeffrey Carr at Digital Dao).
The report, Operating Next-Generation Remotely Piloted Aircraft for Irregular Warfare was published “For Official Use Only” (FOUO) in April 2011 by the U.S. Air Force Scientific Advisory Board, and addresses electronic threats to the American drone fleet.
The board found a list of problems, including communications vulnerabilities and lost communication events.
From Digital Dao:
Section 2.4.3 “Threat to Communication Links” expands on the state of vulnerabilities for [drones]:
- Jamming of commercial satellite communications (SATCOM) links is a widely available technology. It can provide an effective tool for adversaries against data links or as a way for command and control (C2) denial.
- Operational needs may require the use of unencrypted data links to provide broadcast services to ground troops without security clearances. Eavesdropping on these links is a known exploit that is available to adversaries for extremely low cost.
- Spoofing or hijacking links can lead to damaging missions, or even to platform loss.
Section 2.4.4 “Threat to Position, Navigation, and Guidance”:
- Small, simple GPS noise jammers can be easily constructed and employed by an unsophisticated adversary and would be effective over a limited RPA operating area.
- GPS repeaters are also available for corrupting navigation capabilities of RPAs.
- Cyber threats represent a major challenge for future RPA operations. Cyber attacks can affect both on-board and ground systems, and exploits may range from asymmetric CNO attacks to highly sophisticated electronic systems and software attacks.
This information is particularly interesting given the exclusive interview of an Iranian engineer by Scott Peterson and Payam Faramarzi at the Christian Science Monitor.
The CSM story says an Iranian electronic warfare specialist, and his team, overrode the drones communications systems based on information gleaned from the previously downed U.S. drones in Iran.
Once in control of the Sentinel, Iran reprogrammed the craft’s GPS coordinates to make the drone think it was landing at its home base, when actually it was setting down deep in Iran.
“The GPS navigation is the weakest point,” the Iranian engineer told the Monitor, giving the most detailed description yet published of Iran’s “electronic ambush” of the highly classified US drone. “By putting noise [jamming] on the communications, you force the bird into autopilot. This is where the bird loses its brain.”
The “spoofing” technique that the Iranians used – which took into account precise landing altitudes, as well as latitudinal and longitudinal data – made the drone “land on its own where we wanted it to, without having to crack the remote-control signals and communications” from the US control center, says the engineer.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta refused, however, to say whether the drone could have been brought down by an electronic attack.
- Exclusive: Iran hijacked US drone, says Iranian engineer – The Christian Science Monitor (csmonitor.com)
- Iran Claims They Hacked US Drone GPS System (inquisitr.com)
- Iran alleges GPS spoofing tricked CIA’s lost stealth drone – Electronista (electronista.com)
- U.S. drone hijacked by GPS hack? (news.cnet.com)
- Iran Hacked, Hijacked U.s. Drone…report (colonel6.com)
- How Iran hacked super-secret CIA stealth drone (rt.com)