Hacking Military Video Surveillance Feeds

By: John Honovich, Published on Dec 17, 2009

The US military's embarrassing situation illuminates trade-offs and risks of video surveillance encryption. The Wall Street Journal released an investigative report examining how Shiite fighters in Iraq used cheap downloadable software to access video feeds from US Predator drones. You can download the software, SkyGrabber, from their website [link no longer available].

Interesting, as the WSJ notes, this is not technically hacking because the feeds were transmitted unencrypted via commercial satellite feeds.

It's likely that this is not simply incompetence but the result of operational and logistical difficulties in implementing encrypted feeds. US officials said that, "The difficulty is that adding encryption to a network that is more than a decade old involves more than placing a new piece of equipment on individual drones." Even for the US military, the cost might have been too substantial. On the other hand, the risk and the potential damages of such interception may be worse.

In the commercial sector, wireless video surveillance systems commonly are unencrypted or use encryptions so basic that a moderately technical adversary could decrypt. The difference between those scenarios and the military is the motivation to access video feeds from a supermarket's parking lot is dramatically lower than in a war zone.

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