The press is now reporting that insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan have ‘hacked’ US drones and pulled off the video feeds being relayed from the drones to the ground units. This is not good. In fact, it’s almost impossible to overstate how bad this is, not so much because of what was done, but because of what it says about the Pentagon’s approach towards cyber warfare. Pulling a video feed off an unencrypted data link is bad on numerous levels, but it’s not nearly as serious as it sounds. First off, the link wasn’t protected. Easy enough to fix (and by easy I mean it will cost tens of millions of dollars to backfit an entire fleet of drones). Second, it was only a video feed, not actual control of the drone. It’s like tapping into your neighbor’s unprotected wireless network; just because you can suck up their bandwidth doesn’t mean you can start changing the way the network is run. The bigger issue here is this breach reveals just how far behind the times we are when it comes towards cyber warfare. While the rest of the world is actively developing / using cyber warfare to undermine enemy networks, the US is still trying to decide whether or not cyber warfare is an area that needs investments. This is not to say that there aren’t people working hard on improving US cyber security, but it does show that there isn’t consensus as to the dangers posed by cyber threats. I suppose I can understand the point of view of people who think cyber security is too expensive. After all, it’s not like there’s much precedent, I mean, it’s not like Russia launched a massive cyber attack against Georgia’s networks prior to their ground assault in 2008, or that Israel preceded their air attack against the Syrian reactor with a coordinated cyber attack designed to shut down Syria’s air defense system, or that insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan have learned to tap into our drones…oh, wait…maybe we should start putting some funding into this…after all, what good is a ten million dollar system if the data it collects can be compromised with a $30 piece of software? The more dependent we become on cyber-based systems, the more susceptible we become to having that dependency exploited and the more we risk losing the advantage our cyber-based systems provide. Cyber warfare is real and we are way behind the times in our thinking. If only our Admirals and Generals had watched ‘Sneakers,’ we might not be in this mess.
For a more detailed analysis on just how big an issue cyber security has become, check out http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/65499/wesley-k-clark-and-peter-l-levin/securing-the-information-highway