The unmanned drones that have become a hallmark of the Obama administration’s foreign policy wreak havoc across the world every day as part of the broadening war on terror, but you don’t have to be an insurgent or soldier to have a front-row seat. The US military relies on stealthy, remote controlled Reaper and Predator drones — unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVS — to take out insurgents and suspected terrorists overseas without ever putting boots on the ground. But while the transmissions sent from the empty cockpits to control centers around the globe broadcast each and every move of America’s insanely expensive and extraordinary technology, that doesn’t mean the data is streamed solely to Uncle Sam.
In 2008, the US discovered that Shi’ite militants in Iraq had accessed the video feed sent from those stealth drones using only a $26 piece of software, then sent the footage to laptops that eventually landed in the hands of American intelligence. Wired.com’s Danger Room reports that the problem stemmed from something that warranted a relatively easy solution: retrofitting those aircraft with encryption devices that ensured only authorized eyes could see the stream. Four years down the road, however, a source involved in those upgrades tells the website that it’s still easy to hijack transmissions with hardly any trouble.
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