I read an interesting story over at CNN.com about how Iraqi insurgents figured out how to monitor the video feeds from our un-manned Predator drone aircraft. There are a couple things that bother me about this article—one about how it’s written, and one about the content itself.
First, despite the gripping headline, the insurgents ‘hacked’ nothing. The video feed they were watching was broadcast over the airwaves without encryption. They ‘hacked’ the feed in the same way I ‘hack’ a broadcast TV feed by turning on my television, or in the way I ‘hack’ air traffic control communication by turning on a scanner I get at Radio Shack. If an unintended recipient receives a broadcast sent ‘in the clear’, they’ve simply monitored open communication—which anybody can do and, in fact, has a right to do barring any specific laws prohibiting it.
(An example of a specific law is this: most jurisdictions in the United States legally prohibit the use of police scanners to evade the police, so if a bad guy uses one to get away he gets an additional charge on his rap sheet when he’s caught.)
Second, and much more troubling than run-of-the-mill journalistic exaggeration, is the fact that the United States Air Force broadcasts Predator drone video in the clear. Billions of dollars invested over decades in defense encryption technologies, and they can’t even apply a trivial cipher to put at least a speed-bump in the way of the bad guys? In the clear? Come on guys.