Information Warfare: SkyGrabber And The Curse Of Encryption


December 18, 2009: A big story recently has been the revelation that pro-Iranian terrorists in Iraq were using a $26 program (SkyGrabber) that enables someone with a satellite dish and a laptop to intercept and capture video being sent to the ground. Normally, this is used by people to hijack Internet data being sent down via a satellite link. The idea for adapting this to grabbing Predator video transmissions apparently came from Iran, where satellite dishes are illegal. Iranians have responded by hiding small dishes, and doing whatever they can (often illegally) to obtain satellite based broadcasts. The electronic media in Iran is state controlled and censored by a bunch of Islamic conservative clerics. The Iranian secret police have thus come to learn all about stuff like SkyGrabber, and tipped off their brethren in the Quds organization (which takes care of support for foreign terrorists). U.S. troops discovered the terrorist use of SkyGrabber about a year ago.

As for why the Predator video was liable to this kind of capture. Well, sometimes, you take a chance. And then you get caught. For years, the video from UAV was unencrypted. This was to save communications capacity ("bandwidth"), which was always in short supply. To encrypt the video would require more bandwidth, and specialized equipment on the UAVs and ground receivers. There would also be a slight delay for the guys on the ground using the video. For all these reasons, the video remained unencrypted. This was not a secret, it was known to people in the business. Now everyone knows, and encryption, and all its costs, will be added to UAV video broadcasts.



Article Archive

Information Warfare: Current 2022 2021 2020 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001 2000 1999 



Help Keep Us Soaring

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling. We need your help in reversing that trend. We would like to add 20 new subscribers this month.

Each month we count on your subscriptions or contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage. A contribution is not a donation that you can deduct at tax time, but a form of crowdfunding. We store none of your information when you contribute..
Subscribe   Contribute   Close