Eavesdropping software bought over the Internet for $26 has enabled insurgents in both Iraq and Afghanistan to pick off live video feeds from U.S. Predator drone aircraft flying missions over the two countries.
SkyGrabber, described on its Web site as "satellite Internet downloader" software, was used to regularly download the live video in Iraq, and to do so on at least one occasion in Afghanistan, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The video can provide insurgents with data about what targets are being considered and give them the chance to react before an actual attack.
U.S. soldiers found drone videos that had been downloaded via SkyGrabber on a militant's laptop last summer, according to published reports.
The U.S. military has already taken steps to stop the downloads, and is developing the capability to encrypt the transmissions. The military has known about this vulnerability for a decade but thought enemies would not be able to exploit it, according to the Associated Press.
While SkyGrabber is advertised to pick off commercial entertainment satellite traffic, it has apparently been pressed into service to intercept the drone traffic without modification.
Video from the predators is broadcast so the signal is open to any device within range.
The Defense Department is working to encrypt all of its unmanned drone video feeds from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, according to the AP. Upgrading encryption in the drones can take awhile because the military has upwards of 600 drones and thousands of ground stations that would need to share the encryption scheme.
The skygrabber.com Web site offers this description of its product:
"SkyGrabber is offline satellite internet downloader. It intercepts satellite data (movie, music, pictures) that downloadind (sic) by other users and saves information in your hard disk. So, you'll get new movie, best music and funny pictures for free.
"You don't have to keep an online internet connection. Just customize your satellite dish to selected satellite provider and start grabbing. SkyGrabber has simple and attractive GUI, powerful filter system and flexible settings. If you want to have the newest software for free, SkyGrabber is your choice."