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Sunday, December 18, 2011

Iran may have captured the U.S. stealth drone by hacking its GPS

Here's a follow-up news to U.S.'s captured spy drone (see article here), U.S. officials said the drone went down after a malfunction, but Iran were saying that they downed the aircraft with their technology.

The CIA and the U.S. military may have a serious security flaw to deal with if an Iranian engineer's story proves to be true. Speaking to Christian Science Monitor (CSM), he detailed how a team of specialists from his country hacked into the U.S. spy drone's GPS navigator in order to capture it. That's the same one the U.S. government claimed has landed in Iran's territory in early December due to a malfunction.

The Iranian specialists reportedly figured out that the RQ-170 Sentinel's weakest point is its GPS by examining previously downed American drones back in September. Using this knowledge, they designed a trap for one of the drones doing reconnaissance mission in the country: "By putting noise [jamming] on the communications, you force the bird into autopilot. This is where the bird loses its brain," the engineer says. The team then simply programmed it to "land on its own where [they] wanted it to." The engineer asserts that the whole process is as easy as hacking into a Google account. The attack was ultimately successful, leading the unmanned vehicle to land in Iran instead of its home base in Afghanistan.

A 2003 study on GPS vulnerability indicates that the U.S. military has known about the problem for nearly a decade. If the RQ-170 in Iran's possession was indeed hacked, it means the susceptibility is yet to be fixed. This isn't the first time a U.S. drone's security was compromised: back in 2009, videos sent by stealth drones to their ground control stations were intercepted by Iraqi insurgents. And earlier this year, a virus had infected not one, but a whole fleet of unmanned vehicles.


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