To hijack the lost US drone, Iran would have to have overcome major technical hurdles. None are impossible, but US experts question Iran's capabilities in such high-end cyberwarfare.
An Iranian claim that it used cyberwarfare techniques to hijack a US stealth drone, getting it to land in that country, drew deep skepticism from some US cyberwarfare experts who doubt Iran's ability to carry out such an operation.
Iran gained control of the drone by overwhelming the GPS signal that was guiding the aircraft with an Iranian signal, an Iranian engineer told The Christian Science Monitor on condition of anonymity. An Iranian cyberwarfare team then made the drone believe it had arrived home and should land, the source told the Monitor.
To accomplish such a cyber coup, at least three and probably many more major technical hurdles would need to be overcome, several US cyberwarfare and drone experts said. While none of these steps is impossible, each is difficult, and taken together, they represent a massive technological challenge for any enemy hacker – one that the US experts suggest is beyond Iran’s capabilities.
On one hand, hacking into drones is not unprecedented. Speculation persists that Iran-backed Hezbollah has successfully crashed Israeli drones. Moreover, in 2009, Iraqi militants using off-the-shelf software broke through safeguards to download live, unencrypted video from US drones.
Even in the US, a computer virus infected the virtual cockpits of pilots controlling America’s Predator and Reaper drones at Creech Air Force Base, Nev., "logging pilots’ every keystroke as they remotely fly missions over Afghanistan and other warzones," Wired.com reported in October.
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