[time-nuts] "The GPS navigation is the weakest point,"

J. Forster jfor at quikus.com
Thu Dec 15 16:10:14 EST 2011

Iran hijacked US drone, claims Iranian engineer  Tells Christian Science
Monitor that CIA's spy aircraft was 'spoofed' into landing in enemy
territory instead of its home base in Afghanistan
Iran guided the CIA's "lost" stealth drone to an intact landing inside
hostile territory by exploiting a navigational weakness long-known to the
US military, according to an Iranian engineer now working on the captured
drone's systems inside Iran.

Iranian electronic warfare specialists were able to cut off communications
links of the American bat-wing RQ-170 Sentinel, says the engineer, who
works for one of many Iranian military and civilian teams currently trying
to unravel the drone’s stealth and intelligence secrets, and who could not
be named for his safety.

Using knowledge gleaned from previous downed American drones and a
technique proudly claimed by Iranian commanders in September, the Iranian
specialists then reconfigured the drone's GPS coordinates to make it land
in Iran at what the drone thought was its actual home base in Afghanistan.

"The GPS navigation is the weakest point," the Iranian engineer told the
Monitor, giving the most detailed description yet published of Iran's
"electronic ambush" of the highly classified US drone. "By putting noise
[jamming] on the communications, you force the bird into autopilot. This is
where the bird loses its brain."

The “spoofing” technique that the Iranians used – which took into account
precise landing altitudes, as well as latitudinal and longitudinal data –
made the drone “land on its own where we wanted it to, without having to
crack the remote-control signals and communications” from the US control
center, says the engineer.

The revelations about Iran's apparent electronic prowess come as the US,
Israel, and some European nations appear to be engaged in an ever-widening
covert war with Iran, which has seen assassinations of Iranian nuclear
scientists, explosions at Iran's missile and industrial facilities, and the
Stuxnet computer virus that set back Iran’s nuclear program.

Now this engineer’s account of how Iran took over one of America’s most
sophisticated drones suggests Tehran has found a way to hit back. The
techniques were developed from reverse-engineering several less
sophisticated American drones captured or shot down in recent years, the
engineer says, and by taking advantage of weak, easily manipulated GPS
signals, which calculate location and speed from multiple satellites.
Rock Center: Iran's growing influence in

Western military experts and a number of published papers on GPS spoofing
indicate that the scenario described by the Iranian engineer is plausible.

"Even modern combat-grade GPS [is] very susceptible” to manipulation, says
former US Navy electronic warfare specialist Robert Densmore, adding that
it is “certainly possible” to recalibrate the GPS on a drone so that it
flies on a different course. “I wouldn't say it's easy, but the technology
is there.”

In 2009, Iran-backed Shiite militants in Iraq were found to have downloaded
live, unencrypted video streams from American Predator drones with
inexpensive, off-the-shelf software. But Iran’s apparent ability now to
actually take control of a drone is far more significant.

Iran asserted its ability to do this in September, as pressure mounted over
its nuclear program.

Gen. Moharam Gholizadeh, the deputy for electronic warfare at the air
defense headquarters of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC),
described to Fars News how Iran could alter the path of a GPS-guided
missile – a tactic more easily applied to a slower-moving drone.

*Downed US drone: How Iran caught the

“We have a project on hand that is one step ahead of jamming, meaning
‘deception’ of the aggressive systems,” said Gholizadeh, such that “we can
define our own desired information for it so the path of the missile would
change to our desired destination.”

Gholizadeh said that “all the movements of these [enemy drones]” were being
watched, and “obstructing” their work was “always on our agenda.”

That interview has since been pulled from Fars’ Persian-language website.
And last month, the relatively young Gholizadeh died of a heart attack,
which some Iranian news sites called suspicious – suggesting the electronic
warfare expert may have been a casualty in the covert war against Iran.

*Iran's growing electronic capabilities
*Iranian lawmakers say the drone capture is a "great epic" and claim to be
"in the final steps of breaking into the aircraft's secret code."

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta told Fox News on Dec. 13 that the US will
"absolutely" continue the drone campaign over Iran, looking for evidence of
any nuclear weapons work. But the stakes are higher for such surveillance,
now that Iran can apparently disrupt the work of US drones.

US officials skeptical of Iran’s capabilities blame a malfunction, but so
far can't explain how Iran acquired the drone intact. One American analyst
ridiculed Iran’s capability, telling Defense News that the loss was “like
dropping a Ferrari into an ox-cart technology culture.”

A former senior Iranian official who asked not to be named said: "There are
a lot of human resources in Iran.... Iran is not like Pakistan."

“Technologically, our distance from the Americans, the Zionists, and other
advanced countries is not so far to make the downing of this plane seem
like a dream for us 
 but it could be amazing for others,” deputy IRGC
commander Gen. Hossein Salami said this week.
Iran: Obama should apologize for drone

According to a European intelligence source, Iran shocked Western
intelligence agencies in a previously unreported incident that took place
sometime in the past two years, when it managed to “blind” a CIA spy
satellite by “aiming a laser burst quite accurately.”

More recently, Iran was able to hack Google security certificates, says the
engineer. In September, the Google accounts of 300,000 Iranians were made
accessible by hackers. The targeted company said "circumstantial evidence"
pointed to a "state-driven attack" coming from Iran, meant to snoop on

Cracking the protected GPS coordinates on the Sentinel drone was no more
difficult, asserts the engineer.

*US knew of GPS systems' vulnerability
*Use of drones has become more risky as adversaries like Iran hone
countermeasures. The US military has reportedly been aware of
vulnerabilities with pirating unencrypted drone data streams since the
Bosnia campaign in the mid-1990s.
Top US officials said in 2009 that they were working to encrypt all drone
data streams in Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan – after finding militant
laptops loaded with days' worth of data in Iraq – and acknowledged that
they were "subject to listening and exploitation."Perhaps as easily
exploited are the GPS navigational systems upon which so much of the modern
military depends.
"GPS signals are weak and can be easily outpunched [overridden] by poorly
controlled signals from television towers, devices such as laptops and MP3
players, or even mobile satellite services," Andrew Dempster, a professor
from the University of New South Wales School of Surveying and Spatial
Information Systems, told a March conference on GPS vulnerability in

"This is not only a significant hazard for military, industrial, and
civilian transport and communication systems, but criminals have worked out
how they can jam GPS," he says.

*Unmanned drone attacks and shape-shifting robots: War's remote-control

The US military has sought for years to fortify or find alternatives to the
GPS system of satellites, which are used for both military and civilian
purposes. In 2003, a “Vulnerability Assessment Team” at Los Alamos National
Laboratory published research explaining how weak GPS signals were easily
overwhelmed with a stronger local signal.

“A more pernicious attack involves feeding the GPS receiver fake GPS
signals so that it believes it is located somewhere in space and time that
it is not,” reads the Los Alamos report. “In a sophisticated spoofing
attack, the adversary would send a false signal reporting the moving
target’s true position and then gradually walk the target to a false

The vulnerability remains unresolved, and a paper presented at a Chicago
communications security conference in October laid out parameters for
successful spoofing of both civilian and military GPS units to allow a
"seamless takeover" of drones or other targets.

To “better cope with hostile electronic attacks,” the US Air Force in late
September awarded two $47 million contracts to develop a "navigation
warfare" system to replace GPS on aircraft and missiles, according to the
Defense Update website.

Official US data on GPS describes "the ongoing GPS modernization program"
for the Air Force, which "will enhance the jam resistance of the military
GPS service, making it more robust."

*Why the drone's underbelly was damaged
*Iran's drone-watching project began in 2007, says the Iranian engineer,
and then was stepped up and became public in 2009 – the same year that the
RQ-170 was first deployed in Afghanistan with what were then
state-of-the-art surveillance systems.
In January, Iran said it had shot down two conventional (nonstealth)
drones, and in July, Iran showed Russian experts several US drones –
including one that had been watching over the underground uranium
enrichment facility at Fordo, near the holy city of Qom.

In capturing the stealth drone this month at Kashmar, 140 miles inside
northeast Iran, the Islamic Republic appears to have learned from two years
of close observation.

Iran displayed the drone on state-run TV last week, with a dent in the left
wing and the undercarriage and landing gear hidden by anti-American banners.

The Iranian engineer explains why: "If you look at the location where we
made it land and the bird's home base, they both have [almost] the same
altitude," says the Iranian engineer. "There was a problem [of a few
meters] with the exact altitude so the bird's underbelly was damaged in
landing; that's why it was covered in the broadcast footage."

Prior to the disappearance of the stealth drone earlier this month, Iran’s
electronic warfare capabilities were largely unknown – and often dismissed.

"We all feel drunk [with happiness] now," says the Iranian engineer. "Have
you ever had a new laptop? Imagine that excitement multiplied many-fold."
When the Revolutionary Guard first recovered the drone, they were aware it
might be rigged to self-destruct, but they "were so excited they could not
stay away."

** **Scott Peterson* <http://www.csmonitor.com/tags/topic/Scott+Peterson>*,
the Monitor's Middle East correspondent, wrote this story with an Iranian
journalist who publishes under the pen name Payam Faramarzi and cannot be
further identified for security reasons.

*© 2011 The Christian Science Monitor*




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