Unencrypted drone video advantageous to U.S. military, despite risks

Unencrypted video streams defended by US military, despite being intercepted by insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan

The reason the U.S. military didn’t encrypt video streams from drone aircraft flying over war zones is that soldiers without security clearances needed access to the video, and if it were encrypted, anyone using it would require security clearance, a military security expert says.

“Operational information that’s considered perishable has by and large been treated by the military as unclassified,” says David Kahn, CEO of Covia Labs, which sells software for encrypted communications among devices used in military and emergency response missions. Since the video is unclassified, no special clearance is required by personnel who access it to do their jobs, he says.

Drone video traffic was intercepted by insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan from satellite broadcasts from the unmanned drones to the ground. The insurgents used commercial satellite intercept software sold over the Internet that is advertised to grab movies and other entertainment out of the air without benefit of service-providers’ gear or service contracts.

The military says it has taken care of the drone problem since it was discovered in July, but didn’t specify how.

Kahn says that the video information loses its value so rapidly that the military may have decided it wasn’t worth the effort to encrypt it. “Even if it were a feed off a drone with attack capabilities, and even if the bad guys saw that the drone was flying over where they were at that moment, they wouldn’t have the chance to respond before the missile was fired,” he says.

Classified data would have to be encrypted using hardware encryption, which would require upgrades of a significant amount of equipment, and the military might have determined it just wasn’t worth the effort. The military likes to minimize hardware encryption especially in devices used in the field in case the gear falls into the hands of the enemy, Kahn says. “The answer to the question of why people know about the hole and allowed it to persist is that it was so difficult to plug the hole,” he says. “There was a legitimate need for people without clearance to see the data, so a decision was made to let it continue. Now they know it was exploited, they need to close it.”

Kahn says his company offers a middle ground that supports a software sandbox for secure end-to-end encryption of data and issuance of public and private keys to all the devices that need to communicate with each other during a particular mission. When the mission is over, the keys are revoked and the devices lose the ability to communicate with each other, he says.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Tim Greene

Network World
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Matthew Stivala

HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer

The HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer is a great device that fits perfectly into my fast paced and mobile lifestyle. My first impression of the printer itself was how incredibly compact and sleek the device was.

Armand Abogado

HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer

Wireless printing from my iPhone was also a handy feature, the whole experience was quick and seamless with no setup requirements - accessed through the default iOS printing menu options.

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?