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back to article US spy drone hijacked with GPS spoof hack, report says

The US stealth drone broadcast last week on Iranian state television was captured by spoofing its GPS coordinates, a hack that tricked the bird into landing in Iranian territory instead of where it was programmed to touch down, The Christian Science Monitor reported. The 1700-word article cited an unnamed Iranian engineer who …

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Devil

Now let's revisit that thought

Quote:"Do we know it was actually being flown over Iran? It is possible that the Iranians are not being entirely truthful here."

Now, let's hold that thought for a while. All NATO airspace assets above Afghanistan playing pocket tennis while a Be-50 (or whatever DIY Iranian equivalent was used here) is flying in Afghan or Pakistani airspace on top of a Predator drone (probably with escort) and retransmitting GPS signals at 10-20db above what they should be.

I know my tax dollars are being massively wasted but that massively? Surely not...

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Facepalm

Ha!

When I mentioned that the drone was taken down roughly but under control by the Iranians and that the US Department of Defense had announced that the drone showed by the Iranian TV was real, I got some thumbs down.

Who is laughing now....How can people be so stupid to believe that the US security measures are flawless? Probably the same stupid person that believed that a drone flying extremely high in the sky would be shot, crash and remain intact like that.

Unencrypted communication fail.

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Bronze badge

It's the late 60s/70s all over again.

I recall the 60s fascination in the west that missiles would make manned aircraft irrelevant. Many fighter designs of the era initially omitted guns as a sign of progress.

Looks like reality is starting to dawn with UAVs. As remote operated vehicles, the link is a weak target - encryption can be broken, signals blocked.

Until AI is perfected (I for one welcome our future robotic masters), a human is still the only reliable(ish) control system.

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And there's the issue of bandwidth

Predators/ Reapers need 1-10mbit/sec. There's not that much available via satellite, and it's very expensive

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Facepalm

RE: It's the late 60s/70s all over again.

Whilst I'm in general agreement with the rediculous fascination with missiles that killed many good aircraft projects in the '60s, I do have to point out that the control link is only an issue for a drone being remotely controlled. It is more probable that the drone in question was not being remotely flown but was instead flying a planned route on autopilot, so there would not be a control stream to hack in the first place. This was not a Predator, stooging around at 10,000 feet so they could use video, this was an EW drone cruising at 50,000 feet and soaking up electronic signals coming out of Iran. The Iranian story is just so full of holes it's like a cheap whore's fishnets.

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Anonymous Coward

Story?

This isn't an Iranian story... not unless they now control Christian Science Monitor. Ignore any press releases, too many intelligence agencies are involved - come up with a plausible explanation of how a US drone is now in the custody of the Iranians in one piece.

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Facepalm

Like I'd believe something that

some wide eyed, gullible CSM non-technical reporter would parrot from a wacko republic mouthpiece.

Most likely, the Iranians that have an actual idea how it got captured were midway into the intro of what happened to their leaders, saw their eyes glaze over indicating [dummy mode:on], and decided that the fish story would be more valuable. These guys have to play it careful, and keep their heads on their shoulders. Stuxnet didn't work out so good for a lot of physicists over there, or so I heard. Maybe the wacko leaders know what really happened, maybe they didn't. The downside to telling their leaders lies is that they either now have to capture more of them at will, or come up with reasons why they can't.

The persians have perfected intrigue over the past couple thousand years -- there are plots within plots here. They look good (technically speaking anyways -- they have the probe and we do not), so whatever they blather out is given credence way out of proportion to any objective measure of technical feasibility by the gullible and non-technical with their own political/sensationalist ax to grind.

Sadly, my theory is much more embarrassing. The probe ran low on petrol and went into 'fail-safe' mode, where it slowed and went into landing configuration. Should have been two fail-safe modes. One over friendly territory, and one over hostile territory, where it goes 'boom', or at least catches fire.

At least, this has to be at least second or third-tier technology -- aggravating and embarrassing to lose, but not devastating. Nobody's going to put first-tier stuff out without self-destruct that explodes at any tme it appears to be compromised. While I wouldn't put utter base stupidity like that past this administration (gunwalkers, the lot of them), something like this is developed over several administrations, and hardly controlled by the administration people anyway.

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Pirate

Easy to forget...

Amid all the propaganda originating on both sides, it's easy to overlook the fact that the Iranians are actually pretty good at doing science, despite (or perhaps because of?) the restrictions placed upon the country.

This is, after all, only the 9th country to get a domestically-built satellite into orbit, makes its own bio-implants, is apparently pretty cued up on stem cell research etc etc etc.... before we consider the talents of their few remaining friends. And being within striking range of nuclear-armed Israel, Pakistan, India, Russia and China, not to mention the USA, it's also no surprise that they have an interest in acquiring a nuclear deterrent of their own.

Underestimating one's (potential or real) enemies because of their perceived cultural, religious or technical inferiority is the classic route to cock-ups like losing this drone, and ultimately to messing up an asymmetric war - as the Israelis found when they wandered into Lebanon last time.

Iran's adversaries need to raise their game if they want to avoid being made to look like idiots again in future.

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Coat

US misunderestimated Iran.

I'll take my coat.

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You're either with us or against us!

Thanks for making that point. There is a tendency in our media for Iran to be portrayed as an unstable and unpredictable menace in the Middle East region. However you only need to put yourself in their shoes to understand their suspicion of the West. Iran has a mortal enemy in close proximity who was effectively created and armed with nuclear weapons by the west. It is supported financially and militarily by the US, still (lest it be forgotten) the only country in history to have used nuclear weapons in hostility. It has borders with two countries that have been invaded, and are still occupied, by the US. Iran also has borders with former Soviet states who have ties with the Americans or permit American activities on their soil. And, putting Israel and its little excursions into Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, Uganda, etc aside (not forgetting Mossad and their activities) this is a list of countries that have been bombed or invaded by the US since WWII.

Korea and China 1950-53 (Korean War)

Guatemala 1954

Indonesia 1958

Cuba 1959-1961

Guatemala 1960

Congo 1964

Laos 1964-73

Vietnam 1961-73

Cambodia 1969-70

Guatemala 1967-69

Grenada 1983

Lebanon 1983, 1984 (both Lebanese and Syrian targets)

Libya 1986

El Salvador 1980s

Nicaragua 1980s

Iran 1987

Panama 1989

Iraq 1991 (Persian Gulf War)

Kuwait 1991

Somalia 1993

Bosnia 1994, 1995

Sudan 1998

Afghanistan 1998

Yugoslavia 1999

Yemen 2002

Iraq 1991-2003 (bombing)

Iraq 2003-05

Afghanistan 2001-05

Whatever the merits of those actions, if you were Iranian, what would make you think that the US would hesitate to add your country to that list?

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I failed to spot that Iran was already on the list, which also appears only to run up to 2005 - doh!

Of course there are then various countries that the US has supplied with arms to pursue it's foreign policy interests, mainly across South America (particularly Columbia) and Africa but also including the Taliban during Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and, of course, Iran itself.

Incidentally the 1987 incident involving Iran I believe relates to bombing of Iranian oil interests. In 1988 the US also attacked the Iranian navy and shot down an Iranian commercial flight with the loss of 290 lives.

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Stop

Model planes and kites

I though these religious extremists were against such western fancies?

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Stop

Source

Christian Science Monitor... Do not pass go. Bad source is bad.

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Anonymous Coward

Oh look

Someone on the Register comments board just made a knee jerk reaction based on a name.

The Cristian Science Monitor is a highly respected organ.

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Thumb Down

A touch of irrational bias perhaps?

Erm, have you ever read the Christian Science Monitor? Or are you just knee-jerk condemning something because its name associates it with a religion you aren't part of? Would you condemn it quite so quickly if it was called the "Sikh Times" or the "Jewish Chronicle"?

Well I, not a Christian Scientist I might add, have read it. Many, many newspapers could learn a thing or two about quality, accurate balanced reporting from the CSM. It's certainly better than most British daily papers. The CSM has a good track record of breaking news that doesn't come out in the main-stream media.

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Ru
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FAIL

You are an idiot.

Their philosophies which you presumably disagree with don't seem interfere with their ability to do journalism. You may find that quite a few interesting things mentioned on the Reg first popped up in CSM.

By rejecting them on your perception of their faith, you end up no better than any other judgemental zealot out there.

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Black Helicopters

re: sitruc

You guys are all jumping all over sitruc, and I don't think you are grokking what he is on about.

This isn't a blanket condemantion of CSM -- just repetition of the GIGO rule.

They *do* need to consider their source, whose motives are highly suspect on a good day. You can go on and on about Iran's reasons, but at the end of the day, they have motive to not tell the truth. Given that, the reporter should have found an equal but opposite PhD to at a minimum determine if it is feasible or even likely. Given the information in this blog, I'd say the odds are extremely high that we are arguing over Iran's propaganda claim, and countering it with the US' own propaganda claim.

CSM clearly did not exercise the due diligence a professional journalist should when reporting things they have no clue about, and are repeating what is very likely misinformation at the least, and outright propaganda at the likeliest. Sad, because they often do get it right. Then again, the National Enquirer does, too. Just ask John Edwards.

I have no patience for reporters that blindly repeat someone else's propaganda, regardless of motive, religion, or employer. It's bad enough when they produce their own garbage information -- passing third-hand propaganda is an insult to the craft.

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Joke

This sounds like an opportunity...

for the U.S. military to pad that budget again - They're going to need to develop a whole new program for this, or rebrand the existing one - either way, & like any good military entity, they will need an appropriate acronym for it. May I suggest "Combative Unsecured Nonencrypted Tactical System"

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Happy

geo-politics aside

No matter how it was done... its still a pretty cool hack. Dude has some serious bragging rights... well that is until he his killed in an unfortunate Iranian equivalent of McDonald's accident.

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We are own all your spyplane

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They are idiots

The best thing they could do, is give it back and apologize for hacking it to cause it to go off course and into their airspace, and say they won't do it again.

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Pint

I upvoted you because i assumed irony and a forgotten Joke icon.

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Silver badge

I'm dredging ancient memories here...

but am I correct in my recollection that there are two encryptions applied to GPS? One which scrambles the lower (highest resolution) bits so that civilian equipment can work but to lower precision, and one that scrambles the lot so that only military systems would work?

If that were the case, then the US couldn't scramble the lot without making an ipso facto state/declaration of war (and incidentally annoying a lot of drivers who have forgotten what a map is), and as such, in nominal peace time, any automated system that relies on GPS alone for navigation is going to be vulnerable to a 'hey, you're really over there!' signal spoofing attack.

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Anonymous Coward

I seem to remember that the system transmits on 3 different bands. There is the open channel that used to have randomly drifting delays added to it, which is accurate to about 30m and is switched off occasionally (without requiring an act of war).

Then there are a couple of others. The others work perfectly fine all by themselves without the open band (and they need to for when you switch off the open band). In fact by looking at 2 of the bands and calculating the difference between them, you can actually cancel out a lot of the atmospheric variations because of the way they affect the bands differently. To receive the encrypted bands, you need to have the decryption key.

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Gold badge

AC@23:229

"I seem to remember that the system transmits on 3 different bands. There is the open channel that used to have randomly drifting delays added to it, which is accurate to about 30m and is switched off occasionally (without requiring an act of war)."

No. The original GPS signals consisted of 2 signals transmitted on different frequencies.

As designed a military receiver would need *both* to get the full military grade accuracy. However the GPS satellites have been upgraded and do transmit other GPS signals designed to have improved characteristics for both military and civilian users.

Given the *very* large investment in GPS hardware I'm sure how well these have been adopted.

A US military system would be expected to carry a milspec 2 channel receiver so at a minimum you would need to generate the military version of the code and possibly its encrypted version, along with the civilian version.

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Anonymous Coward

so, was it in Iranian airspace or not?

I notice the US has not bothered to say whether it was trespassing or not...

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Joke

@so, was it in Iranian airspace or not?

Of course it wasn't, at least from drone's point of view. Obviously, it was flying over American military base in Pakistan spotting beercan garbage and helping base's janitors to keep it clean and landed there without any doubts, and GPS data confirmed that.

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Bronze badge

A spokesperson has said, "We didn't think it was in Iranian airspace, but the GPS was on the fritz so we couldn't be sure."

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Joke

Iranian airspace

What do you mean "Iranian airspace". Haven't you been listening? The USA owns all airspace...

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We May Not Have All Of The Info

It seems kinda strange to me that the US could be stupid enough to allow one of their drones to fall into enemy hands. Yes, I know there are no limits on stupidity, but bear with me....

I've been wondering whether the US allowed this drone to be captured "alive". Reason might be that if Iran thought they had something really good then they'd take it to wherever they had the facilities to decode it. And if the drone had been smart-programmed it could phone home to give its coordinates, and that could bring in an armageddon strike.

We shouldna forgit that the US are now out of Iraq and so might be looking for their next world's policeman event.

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Anonymous Coward

If you can make Tehran look like Washington to a UAV.

Presumably, you could make Washington look like Tehran to a UAV too?

Which would make guidance of some types of nasty flying objects a bit of a problem. They might go to Washington instead of, eeerrr, somewhere else.

Anon, because I'd prefer my GPS location not to be confused with Tehran, thanks.

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Joke

Switcheroo

Sounds to me like that would solve a lot of problems. Would work almost as satisfyingly as reinstating duelling to settle political disputes.

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I blame SkyNet.

The machines are just hoping that those stupid humans will flip the switch and let them have self-autonomy...

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Anonymous Coward

Well bugger me...

I didn't really think I'd be right! Christmas definatley has come early. I'll award myself a pint. At least now the diplomats have more muscle to go in and demand their kit back.

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Go

That would be...

"hacking and stealing a US aircraft" which was illegally in its sovereign airspace.

So perhaps legally intercepting and impounding might be better words.

OK, we don't know either way where it was when interfered with, and probably never will.

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Black Helicopters

is it just me

or does this sound very similar to the plot of the james bond film, tomorrow never dies, where they alter the gps to send a ship of course.

only this time, its being done wiht drones.

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Bronze badge
Trollface

Perhaps

Operator: Ok the drones landed where you said

Boss: What do you mean landed?

Operator: These co-ordinates you wanted the drone to land at, its on your request

Boss: Not land, spy on them dammit!

Operator: Your requests does not say spy

Boss: Erm ok forget this ever happened and claim it was hacked by someone we don't like.

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Silver badge

Drone

Difficult to envisage how it could be hacked. And having hacked it, why would Iran boast of the hacking ? Making that info public will just cause the US to take remedial action. Logically, they would just keep taking aircraft for as long as possible. I guess we will never know what really happened here. Maybe it just crash landed and was captured/repaired. Maybe the whole thing is made of cardboard.

There is stuff going in within Iran, possible a power struggle, and this maybe is all part of that.

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Or maybe US don't scare them and they want to show it.

/Thinking out loud

I wish our politicians in Europe have the balls to do the same.

/Thinking out loud

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Black Helicopters

Good work!

So basically a case of (electronically) waving hands and telling the drone "these are not the satellites you are looking for".

Go Iran! Clever stuff guys.

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Stop

I just don't buy it

Even if you could either break the encryption/signature/frequency hopping, or apply microscopic delays in such a way as to fool it into thinking its distance from one or more satellites was greater, we're not talking about just randomly buggering it up, we're presumably talking about getting it to land the right way up, wheels down, somewhere soft.

Insufficient security of control systems or operator finger trouble all sound infinitely more plausible than a GPS hack.

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I havent looked recently but the last pictures I saw only showed the top half of the drone, which made me think that it had not landed wheels down.

fooling if you have the ability to fool the gps you can make it think that it is flying faster & higher than it really is, which would probably result in it decreasing speed and height,

repeat this for long enough over somewhere nice and flat and you have a drone that has landed on its belly at low speed that still thinks its flying.

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Mushroom

Just wait 'till the Iranians have their little exhibition of stolen goods and JDAM !!

game over_insert credit

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FAIL

No remote destruct / disable?

If I made one of these things knowing that it may be shot down, tricked, hijacked or even captured in flight with a big fishing net I would ensure it had the ability to be blown up remotely.

Worth carrying a couple of kilos of semtex or a small EMP device.

A clockwork timer set to go off half an hour after expected return time might be enough.

However...

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Black Helicopters

GPS is triangulation based on distance from the satalite (time delay of the signal)

Jam the originals and retransmit the the original signals with the required timedelay to indicate the new triangulation point (The GPS itself does not know the time it just determins position based on the diferential timestamps on the signal) . unless the drone has an onboard atomic clock you can drift the time signals forward the miniscule amount away from real time to allow for not being able to transmit a signal in the past.

No decription required

the complexity is the timing in the retransmission of the signals

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how???

I'm sure someone on here can correct my ignorance but!!!

I understand that the Iranians could probably/possibly spoof the co-ordinates to the drone, thus confusing it. But they'd presumably have to then feed it the the location it was pre-programmed to land at so it'd decide it'd reached it's waypoint and touch down, this would alos need to co-incide with a reasonably level bit of land where it could land with trashing it's self. Perhaps that's why the landing gear wasn't visible.

Which in turn means they'd need to understand where it came from, which isn't unlikely I suppose.

Anyone know enough to comment on this?

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Boffin

Cutting the wrong cost

So they spent however many millions building this thing and couldnt afford the £30 or so to add a rubidium atomic clock to detect such GPS shenanigans, its not like ebay isnt full of them http://www.ebay.co.uk/sch/i.html?_from=R40&_npmv=3&_trksid=m570.l2736&_nkw=fe-5680a

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Don't get too worked up

Other sources indicate the drone went down in Afghanistan (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/iran/8934451/Drone-shot-down-over-Iran-lost-over-Afghanistan-last-week.html) and was sent to Iran by the Taliban (http://dailycaller.com/2011/12/15/us-drone-may-have-been-downed-in-afghanistan-not-iran/).

Don't put much credence in Iranian claims of technical skills - with the possible exception of their facility with Photoshop®.

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Anonymous Coward

What are they gonna do..

What are Iran going to do with the drone now they have it.. its not like they they could just find the manual on line or anything... oh wait... http://publicintelligence.net/ufouo-u-s-army-predator-drone-pocket-guide/

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