It could take as long as five years before video feeds from Predator drones are fully encrypted and U.S. forces are able to keep enemy forces from intercepting the information, reports Ellen Nakashima in the Washington Post .
U.S. forces uncovered over the past year a number of instances of Iraqi insurgents intercepting video feeds from Predator drones, the Wall Street Journal reported Dec. 17. The insurgents were able to intercept extensive video footage from the unmanned aerial vehicles by using inexpensive, off-the-shelf software.
The Air Force has begun encrypting the UAV fleet, but that work will not be finished until 2014, according to the Air Force Unmanned Aircraft Systems Flight Plan. The long-range plan released in July outlines the Air Force’s strategy for changes in doctrine, organizational structure, training, equipment, leadership, education, personnel, facilities and policy.
But according to Rex Buddenberg of the Naval Postgraduate School, the military’s data security problem is bigger — and much more difficult to fix — than the original reporting lets on.
According to Buddenberg, solutions that focus exclusively on protecting the link – in geekspeak, protecting individual bytes (Layer 1 of the ISO model) or frames (Layer 2) — ignore a larger issue: What happens when the data gets relayed. The Predator drones, for instance, are flown from Nevada. The data has to go places to be useful, with much of it being routed through the terrestrial Defense Information Systems Network.
“The disadvantage is that the encryption is stripped off at the [DISN] ground terminal,” he says. “So you get direct interception protection (which is what this exploit appears to be). But you don’t get any protection for the YouTube effect — wiretapping the terrestrial internet.”