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Exclusive: Iran hijacked US drone, says Iranian engineer (Video)

In an exclusive interview, an engineer working to unlock the secrets of the captured RQ-170 Sentinel says they exploited a known vulnerability and tricked the US drone into landing in Iran.

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“Technologically, our distance from the Americans, the Zionists, and other advanced countries is not so far to make the downing of this plane seem like a dream for us … but it could be amazing for others,” deputy IRGC commander Gen. Hossein Salami said this week. 

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According to a European intelligence source, Iran shocked Western intelligence agencies in a previously unreported incident that took place sometime in the past two years, when it managed to “blind” a CIA spy satellite by “aiming a laser burst quite accurately.”

More recently, Iran was able to hack Google security certificates, says the engineer. In September, the Google accounts of 300,000 Iranians were made accessible by hackers. The targeted company said "circumstantial evidence" pointed to a "state-driven attack" coming from Iran, meant to snoop on users.

Cracking the protected GPS coordinates on the Sentinel drone was no more difficult, asserts the engineer.

US knew of GPS systems' vulnerability

Use of drones has become more risky as adversaries like Iran hone countermeasures. The US military has reportedly been aware of vulnerabilities with pirating unencrypted drone data streams since the Bosnia campaign in the mid-1990s.

Top US officials said in 2009 that they were working to encrypt all drone data streams in Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan – after finding militant laptops loaded with days' worth of data in Iraq – and acknowledged that they were "subject to listening and exploitation."

Perhaps as easily exploited are the GPS navigational systems upon which so much of the modern military depends.

"GPS signals are weak and can be easily outpunched [overridden] by poorly controlled signals from television towers, devices such as laptops and MP3 players, or even mobile satellite services," Andrew Dempster, a professor from the University of New South Wales School of Surveying and Spatial Information Systems, told a March conference on GPS vulnerability in Australia.

"This is not only a significant hazard for military, industrial, and civilian transport and communication systems, but criminals have worked out how they can jam GPS," he says.

The US military has sought for years to fortify or find alternatives to the GPS system of satellites, which are used for both military and civilian purposes. In 2003, a “Vulnerability Assessment Team” at Los Alamos National Laboratory published research explaining how weak GPS signals were easily overwhelmed with a stronger local signal.

“A more pernicious attack involves feeding the GPS receiver fake GPS signals so that it believes it is located somewhere in space and time that it is not,” reads the Los Alamos report. “In a sophisticated spoofing attack, the adversary would send a false signal reporting the moving target’s true position and then gradually walk the target to a false position.”

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