back to article US spy drone hijacked with GPS spoof hack, report says

The US stealth drone broadcast last week on Iranian state television was captured by spoofing its GPS coordinates, a hack that tricked the bird into landing in Iranian territory instead of where it was programmed to touch down, The Christian Science Monitor reported. The 1700-word article cited an unnamed Iranian engineer who …


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  1. El Cid Campeador

    Cue all the sysadmins....

    ....who've been complaining for years that no one pays attention to security. Security is not an afterthought, it's something that has to be baked in to every stage of the design process of anything that is expected to survive in a hostile environment, which definitely includes any communications gear.

    Funny how back when I was in the service I grumbled about reliance on GPS and I was told I was being paranoid.

    As we said when the drone videos we found.... unencrypted streams? WTF? If you can't encrypt it as is, stream a low-res version that can be and bring the raw take back to base.

    And before the usual Windows/Linux/BSD flame war starts, can we just note that some are better than others but all are flawed and move on?

    1. HMB

      Sometimes an embarrassing international incident has to occur before people sit up and take note.

      1. Imsimil Berati-Lahn

        Bill Hicks seemed to remember a scene from "Shane"...

        Which never existed but hey ho, the sentiment is there.

        ...Pick up the gun. Pick it up!

        So now the good old US-of-A has all the reason they need to go marching in there, blah blah regime change blah blah, and pinch all their lovely Arabian oil.

        I smell something fishy... And I'm not talking about the contents of Baldrick's apple crumble.

        1. sisk

          @Imsimil Berati-Lahn

          Over a captured spy drone? I very much doubt it. The American public is so sick of being at war at this point that starting another one would be tantamount to political suicide for any American politician. With a Presidential election coming up and the current President looking like the underdog already no one in DC is going to make that mistake.

        2. h4rm0ny

          Re: Bill Hicks

          I totally agree with your sentiment - the USA is perfectly capable of creating causus belli deliberately in order to attack a nation. They have done so multiple times. But they invent stories about Iraqi soldiers taking babies out of incubators or Gaddafi supplying his army with viagra in order to better rape people (oh wait - that one was *our* national newspapers). But the USA doesn't invent stories that make themselves look stupid or weak. Bush signed off approval for CIA counter-government activities in Iran and Congress has approved huge funding for such operations. When Ahmadinejad said that the post-election protests were being whipped up by US agents there was a lot of truth to that. And if you want to find likely examples of US manufactured causus belli, look at the pretty silly and unlikely story about Iran trying to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in October. But having a massively expensive drone safely land itself in Iran and them not give it back, that just makes the US sound a bit silly and therefore is unlikely to be a conspiracy on their part. Plus they wouldn't *actually* want the Iranians to have one of their drones.

    2. Captain Scarlet

      Cant miss this

      Your Paranoid!

      1. <user />

        @captin scarlet

        Can't miss this, you mean:

        You're paranoid!

        1. Captain Scarlet

          @ user/ Engrish

          I apologise for my poor use of English and now to get around this I will put the blame on The Reg.

          >_< Dammit why can't the reg put a grammar checker on!

      2. paul-s

        Your Paranoid

        My paranoid? Or his paranoid? Let's just all share and call it ours.

        1. Marcelo Rodrigues


          It is MY paranoid! Honestly, people! Why there is always someone trying to steal from me?

          Behind the doors, inside the trash cans, crawling on the ceiling. I know You are there, hear me?

          And I will not allow You to take my paranoid away! I may be the trusting type, but not he! No, sir!

    3. Volker Hett

      Even more so with GPS, back in the days of the cold war GPS used to be MADE inaccurate for everybody and the US forces used the undoctored but encrypted signals. Since the birds in orbit are still the same and they still can make the signals inaccurate, there must still be a way to use an encrypted signal.

      What's next? A Tomahawk turning around and attacking it's mothership?

      1. Jamie Kitson

        There's no point making the signals inaccurate any more, it's quite easy to fix them, just record their signals at known locations.

        1. Jaybus

          There is no need to to send out incorrect signals in the first place. Simply signing with a private key should suffice. It doesn't encrypt the data, but rather prevents a data packet from being tampered with by a man-in-the-middle attack, guaranteeing that the data packet actually came from a GPS satellite. The signature could be appended to the current packet so that existing receivers would still work, while new receivers would be made to check the appended digital signature and simply discard bogus packets. Naturally, the new receiver would warn of the ongoing attack, and the attacker is making his transmitter an easy target.

          1. Andrew Moore

            I'm presuming the drone was using the encrypted P-Code (or better still, M-Code) GPS signals. So either the Iranians have hacked it (extremely doubtful). More likely an operative close to the US air base (Miramar or wherever the drone launched from) is receiving the GPS signals and forwarding them to a broadcast station in Iran.

      2. I. Aproveofitspendingonspecificprojects

        Whaddaya mean "Next"?

        I remember the good old days, when the Brits used to send in half a dozen tanks where only four were needed. The USA routinely offed 2/3rds of their allies.

        The home team shot down all the US aircraft at Pearl Harbour just before WW2.

    4. Allison Park

      this was a plant to hit Iran with a nuclear virus

      the US let them get it so they will use their most powerful computers to try and decode the software which will set them back years again with their nuke project

  2. MegaZone

    I don't know - I'd expect the drone to be using the encrypted military GPS signals, not the open civilian signals. And without the keys you can't spoof the encrypted signals - that's kind of why they exist in the first place.

    1. Term
      Black Helicopters

      Perhaps the military encrypted GPS signal was being jammed and the drone fell back to using the civilian GPS?

      1. Volker Hett

        Jamming works on both signals, you can't know which frequency is in use by the receiver so you jam all.

        1. Jaybus

          The problem with jamming is that the transmitter becomes the easiest target imaginable..

    2. Ian 14

      Probably disinformation

      Exactly, it should be impossible to spoof the military GPS signal.

      I have a suspicion that this report originated as US disinformation. There has possibly been a monumental cock-up with the security of the drone's command and control channel - it has already been reported that these drones transmit unencrypted video. Such a FUBAR would be very, very embarrassing to the Americans who are just as sensitive to losing face as a Chinese emperor was.

      You could even make an argument that the US Military (who were fuming that Bill Clinton ordered GPS selective availability to be permanently turned off) would like an excuse to argue for the return of selective availability to the civilian GPS signal. Hell, they might even stage-manage it all, deliberately losing a drone that in fact had non-standard internals as a disinformation campaign in its own right.

      Some of the above might sound paranoid but when you're dealing with an outfit that would break arms embargoes (to Iran no less) to raise funds to fund terrorists (the Contras) that Congress had forbidden them to fund, help them to smuggle illegal drugs to raise funds, and generally break domestic and international law whenever it suits them it pays to be a bit paranoid. Remember, these are the people who brought you Fidel Castro's exploding cigar and many other incredible tales.

      1. DryBones

        How long do you think it would take to break a code if you had a box that took in the encypted signal on one side, and output the decoded information on the other side, with unlimited data samples available? They've shot down other drones. Were they all flown by dead reckoning or civilian GPS?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          "Were they all flown by dead reckoning or civilian GPS?"

          You'd hope that some redundant systems like dead reckoning and a simple clock might be involved, though. At least then the drone can check its GPS position and think "Wow, that must have been hyperspace or something! I was just by the Iranian border and now I'm over Kandahar!" and can suspect foul play before coming to the obvious conclusion that it is still by the Iranian border and that someone has been playing silly buggers with the GPS signal.

        2. Jaybus

          The first key-recovery attacks on full AES, due to Bogdanov, Khovratovich, and Rechberger, were published in 2011. A brute force attack requires 2^256 permutations. The aforementioned mathematicians managed to reduce that number to 2^189. So, it would likely take around 10^37 years at a rate of 1 trillion tries per second on a supercomputer.

      2. Al 4

        Differential GPS made SA moot

        The need for SA in precision GPS devices, i.e. those used in surveying and for other civilian purposes, were made moot through the use of differential GPS, which can provide centimeter level accuracy without the need for any of the previously encrypted information. It is only the low cost GPS receivers that need to make use of SA to provide a higher level of accuracy because they only use one antenna and not multiple to triangulate and calculate the correct location.

        1. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

          Nah, it's much easier to improve accuracy.

          Umm, at the velocity those drones fly I doubt diff GPS will actually work (I'm not certain you get stable enough conditions for the required statistics to work) but I could be wrong.

          From what I know from the US military, accuracy is best improved by placing a Chinese embassy right next to the target. Guaranteed hit. Sometimes just quickly sticking a sheet of paper with "Chinese embassy" to the building is enough.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Sort of

            The civilian signal is designed to go funny if you are travelling over 400km/h (ish), whereas the encrypted military one isn't...

        2. Al 4

          Civilian GPS receivers

          First of all what was encrypted but now isn't is SA. What SA (selective availability) is, is the wobble of the satellite in orbit. Even though a satellite is in a fixed orbit it wobbles in space. Since your position is calculated using no less than three satellites (four if you need attitude) the compounded wobble of the satellites is what causes the error in position. The reason civilian receivers don't work at high speeds, besides there being laws against US companies selling them that work at high speeds, is the cost involved with processing power needed to calculate the signal changes at high speed. Also the antennas for high speeds are not like the ones that operate at low speeds. All receivers use the same information it was only the availability of the corrections information that has changed.

          When it comes to differential GPS there are two methods. The one most people know about involves a base station that knows where it is located and can calculate the satellite wobble and transmit that information to the roving one. The second version involves a single GPS receiver with enough channels to handle processing the information from several antennas at the same time. Because it is a geometry calculation each antenna receives slightly different signal timing information from a satellite. By doing some matrix calculations on the data the wobble can be calculated real time for each satellite. Aircraft have an easier time doing these type of calculations because the satellite constellation is not obscured by items close to the horizon that block the signal. The better the satellite geometry (spacial positions) the better the calculations that can be performed. The differential GPS class I took about 10 years ago was taught by one of the system creators. In the test he and his students performed they attached several antennas to an airplane and then flew the airplane around before doing the post processing on the data collected (this was before the civilian receivers we have today which can process the data real time). they couldn't figure out what an error they were seeing in the data was until they realized that it was actually measuring the yaw of the wings where two antenna were located.

          Spoofing is done using devices call pseudolites which are also located sometimes around airports to provide ground based GPS information for landing purposes since the satellite geometry, and precision, is worse the closer you get to the ground due to signal interfering items (the geometry of the tracked satellites determines the accuracy of your position). The newer surveying grade receivers are being made that not only use the GPS but the GLONASS constellation as well to provide better world wide geometry. For ground based location you only need 3 satellites in good position for attitude positioning you need at least 4 in good positions.

          1. Alan Firminger

            Thanks to all contributors above, the debate is interesting and informative.

            No-one picks up on the detail that the a/c appears undamaged in photos. If the gps was spoofed then this was precise enough to bring it to earth at an airfield or landing strip. Good effort for a first try.

      3. Volker Hett

        Hacking into a command and control channel looks easier to me than feeding handmade GPS signals which are good enough so the drone can land on an airfield thousands of miles from it's intended place of landing, most probably with a landing strip in slightly different direction and different length and so on.

        Forged position with forged direction but correct speed over ground, most probably with a forged time as well.

        And all this while the flight controller is looking!

    3. Anonymous Coward

      "Encrypted military GPS"

      Since GPS is a one-way communication (ie there is no mutual authentication), if you simply listen to the data from the satellite and retransmit it with a suitable delay (and repeat for enough satellites) then how is a GPS receiver meant to know it is hearing your streams rather than the satellites' streams? The only way it could know is by already knowing both its position and the time very accurately, in which case it would not need GPS.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Once again America is made to look idiotic by an inferior enemy.

    1. Tchou

      I, for one, welcome our muti-polar world where power is to be balanced, and points of views are to cohexist.

      Kudos for Iranian engineers!

      1. CJ Bill
        Big Brother

        I tend to agree Tchou, although the Iranian government are the biggest bunch of theocratic tossers out there, responsible for some of the worst repression on the planet.

        1. h4rm0ny

          Theocratic tossers...

          Tossers, yes. But not the biggest bunch, as you describe them. Saudi Arabia and Qatar (both of which we directly and indirectly) support are significantly worse. The trouble with Iran is that they are not *our* tossers. The areas that Iran is worst on, tend not to be "repression" in the sense of government repression or putting down rebellions, etc. It's in the areas of backwards attitudes to harmless things like homosexuality. Ahmadinejad was actually fairly elected and with a bigger majority than our last several UK governments. Of course his power is limited by the Ayatollah - it's hardly a pure democracy. But it's not quite the totallitarian regime that it is portrayed as in the West. There are worse regimes - ones that we support. We're installing one in Libya as I type, for example!

        2. I. Aproveofitspendingonspecificprojects

          Worse than the USA?

          Where have you been living for the last decade or so?

    2. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

      AIMaster Key Control Crack is a Very Convenient Hack for either Mayhem or CHAOS.

      Once again America is made to look idiotic by an inferior enemy." ......Norfolk 'n' Goode Thursday 15th December 2011 23:50 GMT

      An interior enemy with superior intelligence is also most likely another quantum entanglement to engage and ponder with paranoia, and launch such tales as would imagine foreign foes to wage dumb battles with, into a whole new ball game, way beyond current and conventional control and certainly way out of the reach of any established might is right players whenever it is always so very wrong.

      And there is also the very real probability, for a possibility always allows such a likelihood, that the East is in ITs Ways, light years ahead of the West with ITs Toys, for Reliance on the Might of the Physical always Falls and Fails to the Right of the MetaPhysical. But y'all knew that, didn't you, but are unable to heed it and disenabled to seed and feed it with IT, which would indicate a primitive sub-prime programming requiring a few tweaks to remove and replace corrupted components/elements with upgraded units. AI Work in Stealthy Cloud Layers you can consider is already in HyperRadioProActive Progress, and quite sufficient that you know about but there is no real great need that you understand, for such are as you are well familiar with, known unknowns and unknown unknowns ....."Reports that say that something hasn't happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns -- the ones we don't know we don't know."

      1. M man

        Welcome back....

        I see they gave you internet privilegs back!

    3. Matt Bryant Silver badge

      RE: Norfolk 'n' Goode

      "Once again America is made to look idiotic by an inferior enemy." More of a case of you making yourself look stupid by eagerly swallowing Iranian propaganda. Please do explain how the Iranians hacked the encrypted/authenticated US military GPS, which is what would be required for such a hack. And then consider that the drone would fall back on inertial navigation systems first developed for the old cruise missiles should the GPS be jammed. In short, the Iranians are talking out their backsides, and you're happilly slurping away at their rear orifices. The drone had a tech problem, the Iranians got lucky and recovered it, and now they are shouting out rediculous porpaganda for consumption by twits such as yourself.

      1. pepper

        You cant say that matt.

        In this case we can trust both sides as far as we can throw them. Remember, the Iranians aren't stupid at all. They are surrounded by country's that dont like them and they dont like. They are more capable then most people think.

        Same goes for the USA. They have a capable fighting force but that doesnt mean they cant screw up and leave flaws in the system. Anybody remember the clock on the patriot missiles?

        Anyway, we will probably never know the whole truth.

    4. Luther Blissett

      Skunks not what they used to be

      It would never have happened to a Blackbird. But this is inevitable when Skunks decide life is sweet when attached to the Milch cow's public teat (and find justification for it in the Topper Secret InfanTilisation program of Freudianism).

  4. Abs Sik


    Good on ya, Americans always have some idiotic excuse why their shit always fails but this is very commendable to have the balls to take over their equipment without them trying to blast you into next Tuesday i had a look at the paper as well if you ignore all the basic information its actually pretty easy to do if you have a decent understanding of mathematics.

  5. Anonymous Coward

    Mil GPS is encrypted

    "Only the military GPS signals are encrypted (authenticated), but these are generally unavailable to civilians, foreign governments, and most of the U.S. government, including most of the Department of Defense"

    But surely to the drone warriors?

    1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      And does it fall back to civilian?

      And does it fall back to civilian? What does it do if the encrypted signal is corrupted/jammed and the civilian is blaring at 20db above the real SAT signal?

      In any case - if they managed this, applause.

      Continuing the old adage about "You know that the world is mad if the best rapper is white, the best golfer is black..." - "And the Iranians do a successful reenactment of a Bond flick hijacking real western equipment"

  6. Anonymous Coward

    If the GO-TeaParty win in 2012......

    Then I forsee the middle east getting a heck of a lot hotter, I wouldn't bet against one of those fruitloops nuking Iran to bolster their divebombing poll ratings or to hide bad domestic news.

    Something along the lines of

    "Tonight on Fox, Iran preps nuclear missile, possibly aimed your home, your children, your church"

    "just in, President fruitbat has ordered a nuclear strike to pre-emptively destroy the Iranian threat and declared the start of the war on Islam"

    Didn't think of a self destruct option?? Surely the intel value is far higher than the monetary value?

    wouldn't be that hard to set it to go bang below 1.000 feet unless the correct code was sent to it, say 25 characters encrypted? Auto destruct being a different system to the navigational systems, would have been quite amusing....Iranians think drone is on final approach and boom, little bits everywhere.....

    1. Cynic

      And then...

      Tonight on Fox, we are about to witness the live coverage of the dropping of a bomb over Iran. US GPS controls are invulnerable to attack and our bomber is so stealthy, only it itself knows where it is. Here is the live feed..... hey wait... that looks just like our studio building. NOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!..... BEEEEEEEEEEEEEP

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      However, you miss the real reason for the fruitloops wanting to create more conflict in the Middle East. It's nothing at all to to with domestic politics. It's far bigger than that.

      War in the Middle East is a Good Thing. Because it indicates that Armageddon and therefore The Rapture and the return of Jesus are nearer. So let's help prod God along a little bit. After all, we are doing his work, aren't we ??

      Of course, in their selective bible reading, they miss Jesus saying that no-one will know the time of his return, not even himself.

      1. Tchou


        What you miss is that the bible is an ancient book and the stories in it are long gone. We are far far after the end of the book. It is time to move to a new life. Bible is over. Finish. Finito. Exit(0).

        1. sisk

          Must we turn everything into an opportunity to take a dig at the Bible? Seriously, the authenticity (or lack thereof, as you see it) of the Bible has nothing at all to do with the situation. AC's point was that the average Tea Partier believes that by starting wars in the Middle East brings them closer to the second coming of Christ, but that if they actually bothered to read it they would see that it says quite the opposite. Basically (s)he's highlighting the stupidity of the people gunning for permanent war by showing how they don't even know their own religion.

          I'm not sure I agree with the assessment of the Tea Party. True most of them need to sit down and actually read the book they're so hot on, but I'm not convinced that very many of them actually believe that starting wars in the Middle East can hasten the end of time.

          1. pepper

            Wheels of the bus go round and round

            quote anon: "Of course, in their selective bible reading, they miss Jesus saying that no-one will know the time of his return, not even himself."

            So you are saying he is coming with the public transport bus? Poor fella.

            1. Figgus

              It amuses me when you take a group formed on fiscal conservatism and try to attribute religious fervor to it.

              Not all tea partiers are bible thumpers, and not all bible thumpers are fiscal conservatives. Is there some overlap? Sure. But saying all tea partiers are religious is as stupid as saying all IT bods are hackers. It's simply not true.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward


            Indeed, these barstewards completely misrepresent the Bible in such a horrendously skewed way.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Holy Bible Disclaimer

        In Todays news, archaeological dig has recovered first two pages of the Holy Bible - the scientist deciphered the texts which were saying:

        "All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

        Dedicated to my Love, Elma"

    3. Audrey S. Thackeray

      Upvoted Mike JVX purely for the amusing ideas generated by the phrase "President Fruitbat".

      Jim-Bob Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine?

    4. h4rm0ny

      Re: Tea Party

      Most of the tea party want to extract the USA from most of its foreign adventurism. It's the Left wing and mainstream Republican that have been pro-war over the last decade. The further Right of the Tea Party have been quite against (a) further borrowing and (b) sending US soldiers to die in any more foreign wars.

  7. Robert Heffernan


    You would think a basic countermeasure to this kind of GPS hack would be something like this.

    The drone obviously keeps track of it's current coordinates, airspeed, time, altitude, etc. It would be also equipped with some kind of Inertial Monitoring Unit (IMU).

    If the GPS signal suddenly increases in strength (ground based GPS transmissions would be much stronger than those from orbit) and the GPS itself suddenly moves to a different altitude, corrdinates, time, etc, and there is no cooberating evicence from the IMU then there is some kind of interception going on, and the plane should either start circling until contact can be made with HQ. If during the event the drone touches ground then self-destruct.

    1. Dave Wray


      IMUs don't have that functionality. If they did, you woudn't need GPS!

      An IMU basically deals with the question of "at what angle is the aircraft in relation to the ground" it's just a bunch of gyros, accelerometers and a compass. It knows if the aircraft is level, pointing up etc, but needs the GPS to tell it where it is.

      1. peter 45

        its not what you got, its what you do with it

        Cough........Kalman filter.........cough

      2. ScottAS2

        If an aircraft leaving A travels east for ten minutes...

        Given initial speed ("at rest") and position ("at my base") you can use those accelerations to figure out your speed and thus position where you are. It's called an inertial navigation system - essentially dead reckoning on steroids. Military aircraft have them because they're not always guaranteed to have line of sight to enough GPS satellites when they're doing their low flying thing or because they're being jammed. Similarly, commercial aircraft are fitted with them - they were essential for oceanic flights before GPS became ubiquitous, since you can't pick up many navigation beacons (at least any that have much accuracy) in the middle of the Atlantic ocean.

        That said, like any form of dead reckoning, INSs drift over time - around half a nautical mile an hour - so most automatically update themselves from other sources when they're available, which nowadays usually means... GPS. So an INS isn't necessarily much help against Iranian GPS hackers, then.

      3. RayG

        You can definitely keep track of your position through inertial measurement.

        It's just a LOT more expensive and difficult to do than GPS, and errors accumulate unless you have something to regularly check against... like GPS. (Until recently it was also bulky and heavy, although I wouldn't bet on that still being true).

        As a result it tends to only get used where absolutely indispensable (like on a submarine - GPS reception down there isn't so good). I wouldn't bet against the existence of drones that have this technology - but whether it's involved in the real story behind this particular episode or not, I have no idea.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Of course submarines use GPS, that was why satellite navigation systems were created in the first place. The subs simply deploy an antenna buoy from time to time to get their fix.

          As has already been pointed out, the accuracy of intertial navigation systems degrades rapidly after the initial fix. It's fine to rely on it if you are lobbing weapons that devastate areas miles across, but useless for spy drones.

        2. Matt Bryant Silver badge

          RE: RayG - inertial systems

          "....I wouldn't bet against the existence of drones that have this technology...." The original AGM-86B cruise missiles, essentially a drone with a bombload, using bulkier 70's tech, packed a reliable and accurate Litton INS and TERCOM navigation system into a lot smaller space than there is in the RQ-170. The drone captured by the Iranians would probably be flying a fixed route, so it is highly likely the contour map for the route would have been loaded to allow the drone to navigate by TERCOM/INS should GPS fail.

          1. RayG

            There we are then, thanks.

            If it's omitted on a modern drone it's probably on cost grounds, but this sounds like it was an expensive sort of drone...

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Not true

        An inertial nav (IN) unit (I've never heard of an IMU!?) can tell you where you are. Ok - you need to tell it initially where you are, but after that it can track your movements with sufficient accuracy to give you a position. GPS is just a convenience, and more accurate, but IN works fine in most cases.

        If the GPS fails (for a military system) then the sensible thing to do would be to fall-back on the IN. And the OP is right; if an unexpected discrepancy is found, or the GPS suddenly tells you that you're actually 500 miles west of where you were a moment ago, then it's not too difficult to assume that something is amiss, and act appropriately.

      5. elsonroa

        IMU's can tell you position...

        An IMU contains 3 accelerometers which can be used to track the X,Y and Z acceleration. Given a known starting point and rest state you can then calculate the current velocity and position by just integrating the output of the accelerometers. Obviously this accumulates sensor errors, which is why a good IMU will be a high precision instrument which will need constant recalibration to deal with temperature changes, etc. GPS is a good recalibration reference, but a step change in GPS position relative to the IMU position should be a dead giveaway for GPS jamming.

        Of course, a good IMU will be an expensive piece of kit - and there's a good chance it wouldn't be cost effective for a low value asset which is expected to be regularly shot down and captured. The same goes for why it probably doesn't make sense to use the military GPS keys in there. At the end of the day, if you expect your drones to be captured and reverse engineered, you don't want anything more sophisticated than an RC plane with a bog standard GPS and a webcam in there.

      6. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        IMU understanding incomplete

        Yes, it is a bunch of accelerometers only...from which you can derive your displacement from an initial location. It doesn't need GPS to "tell it where it is". However, GPS can be used to improve it's accuracy because all IMU's "drift" as time goes by.

      7. Volker Hett

        IMUs are good enough to make a rendezvous in space, no GPS at the ISS!

        1. BristolBachelor Gold badge

          Sorry Volker, but yes, the ISS has GPS (ISS is only about 250k, GPS more like 23k, so the ISS is well within the area of coverage). The ISS is not the only space asset that uses GPS either.

          And yes, they are used for rendezvous (for spacecraft that rendezvous). For example, there is a receiver on the Russian segment that uses GPS to work out it's position in space. It talks to the ATV which also has a reciever to work out it's position in space. They use these to get reasonably close, and then the ATV does the rest by optical.

    2. Tchou

      That would be a nice way to prevent any error correction as well.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Replay attack

    I doubt encryption matters here. You just fly an awacs-like plane above the drone. Your plane receives the GPS signals, gradually adds a slight delay, then retransmits them down to the drone, except amplified. Once you have a sufficient buffer build up, you can either speed up or slow down the streams from each satellite by mere picoseconds, and trick the drone into believing it is where its not. All you need is a buffered repeater radio, a lot of planning, and some tricky math.

    1. Frumious Bandersnatch

      my speculation is probably as ungrounded as yours, but ...

      I'm pretty sure that GPS is immune to replay attacks. Especially considering that the words "cryptographic" and "time server" probably came up quite a bit in the design stage.

    2. Charles 9

      GPS also includes a timebase.

      You forget that GPS signals (including civilian signals) also incorporate a time signal (as in you can actually use GPS to set a clock). A replay attack would create a discontinuity in the time signals that can be recognized, making replay attacks more difficult (especially in the encrypted military bands).

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      If I understand the GPS encoding correctly, you can't find the signal without knowing its CDMA encoding. That would make it impossible adjust relative timings electronically - you'd need the real signal mix from the real location. Spoofing would be an interactive process of precisely monitoring the drone and flying a GPS relay in a path that mirrors the course correction. That would be hard so I suspect that the drone has simpler issues.

    4. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      That cannot work

      GPS signals are weaker than the background noise. To detect them, you create the expected signal, then create several copies of that signal that are delayed by different amounts, then correlate each of the delayed signals with the noise from the antenna. If you know the random number sequence used by the satellites and have a rough idea of the time then one of your delayed guesses will correlate with the detected noise much better than the others. If you do not know the random number sequence then you cannot receive the signal.

      The random number sequence for the civilian signal is publically available. Spoofing the civilian signal while jamming the military one is plausible. A civilian GPS can be reflashed with the codes for the military and civilian signals. I would be surprised if the drone programmers were given a military GPS to test. I would be amazed if they had spoofing and jamming kit available to test their software. It is utter fantasy to entertain the mere possibility that the programmers ever had any time to write spoof+jam detection software in the first place.

      1. Ramazan
        Black Helicopters

        @That cannot work

        "GPS signals are weaker than the background noise" if you use small portable antennae. But on your own territory you might employ powerful radio telescope and sniff military GPS signal right off the U.S. satellite.

        1. Ian 14

          @@That cannot work...

          > "GPS signals are weaker than the background noise" if you use small portable antennae.

          No, they are weaker than background noise, period. Typical ground signal from a GPS satellite is around -140 dBm; even the very best RF amplifier designs generate more noise than this within themselves. Only the magic of processing gain in a spread spectrum (DSSS) signal allows you to haul this signal up out of the noise.

      2. Anonymous Coward

        @That cannot work

        Ah, that's what I'd not understood. If you can't *find* the signal you can't spoof it, and since it is (a) in the noise and (b) pseudorandom, you need to know the pseudorandom sequence to find it. Thanks.

    5. Dave Wray


      Unless of course you put a timestamp in the encrypted GPS data and then bang! Compare the delayed packet to the onboard clock and you can, from 500 miles, in the dark, spot such an attack. Blinfolded.

      Come on, that's not really any newer than IPv4 sequence numbers! Where you been the last forty years?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        What do you think GPS signals are?

    6. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      You missed one thing

      A drone which was not where it was supposed to be. This means it was above Iranian territory in the first place.

      1. Aitor 1

        Over iran?

        You must be joking. The drone is in Afganistan to use it against Iran an Pakistan, as the Taliban have no radar... that is obvious.

  9. Mondo the Magnificent

    Iran now has a U.S. drone..

    but... can it enrich Uranium? No? Then what's the issue? The Ayatollah has a new item that their allies the Russians and Chinese would be willing take off their hands for a price

    1. Ramazan

      @Iran now has a U.S. drone... can it enrich Uranium?

      Who "it"? U.S. drone?

    2. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      And what exactly will they pay in return

      Have you thought of that by any chance?

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Four or five layers of lies...

    The Trojan Horse drone will explode in 3, 2, 1...

    PS: Delaying encrypted GPS signals won't work. Not without the codes.

    1. Dave Bell

      This is beginning to sound like one of those James Bond films, where the bad guys spoof GPS to provoke a war.

      Thing is, a GPS signal is essentially a time-stamped data packet. Delay that signal, and what the receiver sees is that it is further from the satellite. You can't make the receiver think it's nearer a satellite. But the receiver will use the strongest signals it gets. So a touch of noise jamming to mask the original, plus a boosted and delayed signal sounds plausible to throw off GPS. But whether it is practical, outside of a Tom Clancy novel, I couldn't say.

      Oh, and a light-nanosecond is about a foot. Natural variations can easily be a hundred nanoseconds from things such as atmospheric density.

      No, I don't think it's necessary to break the encryption

    2. Voland's right hand Silver badge


      Replaying will not work. Encrypted GPS is _SUPPOSED_ to be replay-attack resistant. If Iranians have found a way to do a replay attack (and sell that to someone else) we are in deep deep deep sh***

      Delaying by a few micro-seconds to skew the fix and rex-mitting at significantly higher power

      - sure, especially if you gradually increase the delay. Any of the safeguards in the system will not kick in until the delay is equivalent to a few hundred km skew. That is more than enough to land it somewhere else.

    3. Ramazan

      @Six or five layers of lies...

      No it will. Delaying encrypted GPS signals will work:

      "Attacks on military (authenticated) GPS: The attacker is not able to generate valid military GPS signals. All he can do is to capture and relay existing signals, e. g. by separating signals from different satellites using high-gain directional antennas and broadband transceivers (called Selective-Delay in [11]). This means that the attacker can delay existing GPS signals and amplify or attenuate them."

  11. Stephen 2

    Log the drones position every 60 seconds. Compare its new position to the old position. If new position is too far from the old one, message HQ for help and continue flying without initiating landing sequence.

    1. RayG

      It's harder than that, sad to say. Many of the proposed attacks involve a slow drift. You would need to compare position information with airspeed information and then work out whether it is inconsistent with realistic wind speeds. Possible, but not bulletproof.

      1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

        You should be doing that anyway in an automated vehicle

        If you are not doing that in a semi-autonomous vehicle your design team should have their Xmas bonus booked.

  12. DryBones
    Thumb Up


    You mean they haven't had years to break the encryption? How long would it take for example that nice new Chinese supercomputer, given the pretty much unlimited dataset it can sample from?

    I'm tagging this one "plausible", "failover fail", and possibly "schoolboy error", and waiting to see if anything more damning, like firing it up or releasing pictures of the interior comes out.

    Imagining the looks on some brass if some variation of "Pleeeeease send another out :D" comes from Tehran.

  13. F111F

    Sooo...Iran Just Confessed

    To hacking and then stealing a US aircraft to the entire world? Would this be similar to the burglar who brags about his latest heist so he can be acclaimed for his brilliance?

    1. Uncle Slacky Silver badge

      In their own airspace...

      ...shirley they're entitled to do whatever they want to uninvited visitors?

      1. poohbear

        @uncle slacky: no, your comparison is faulty. Iran arrested they burglar on their own property.

    2. Rolf Howarth

      Except it's, you know, a spy plane. The implication it was flying over Iran and therefore they'd have been quite entitled to do what they want to it, including shooting it down. Plus of course there's no way of knowing if this really was put out by the Iranians or is misinformation spread by the USA, as someone else has suggested.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        Do we know it was actually being flown over Iran? It is possible that the Iranians are not being entirely truthful here.

        1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

          Now let's revisit that thought

          Quote:"Do we know it was actually being flown over Iran? It is possible that the Iranians are not being entirely truthful here."

          Now, let's hold that thought for a while. All NATO airspace assets above Afghanistan playing pocket tennis while a Be-50 (or whatever DIY Iranian equivalent was used here) is flying in Afghan or Pakistani airspace on top of a Predator drone (probably with escort) and retransmitting GPS signals at 10-20db above what they should be.

          I know my tax dollars are being massively wasted but that massively? Surely not...

    3. peter 45

      stealing a US aircraft

      Wellllll. More like

      'I chased the burglar out of muy house and he left his tools behind. Mine now. Ha ha'.

    4. Tchou

      I can't wait to see your comment when a chinese spy plane will be captured above US home land airspace.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Not really

      As more the equivelent of you deliberately hitting someone with a foam bat and them grabbing it and refusing to give it back.

      (Actually, i dont know if its settled that they will give it back or not, but from my layman's knowledge of Iranian-US relations, i would veer to the side of "not")

  14. Anonymous Coward


    When I mentioned that the drone was taken down roughly but under control by the Iranians and that the US Department of Defense had announced that the drone showed by the Iranian TV was real, I got some thumbs down.

    Who is laughing now....How can people be so stupid to believe that the US security measures are flawless? Probably the same stupid person that believed that a drone flying extremely high in the sky would be shot, crash and remain intact like that.

    Unencrypted communication fail.

  15. GitMeMyShootinIrons

    It's the late 60s/70s all over again.

    I recall the 60s fascination in the west that missiles would make manned aircraft irrelevant. Many fighter designs of the era initially omitted guns as a sign of progress.

    Looks like reality is starting to dawn with UAVs. As remote operated vehicles, the link is a weak target - encryption can be broken, signals blocked.

    Until AI is perfected (I for one welcome our future robotic masters), a human is still the only reliable(ish) control system.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      And there's the issue of bandwidth

      Predators/ Reapers need 1-10mbit/sec. There's not that much available via satellite, and it's very expensive

    2. Matt Bryant Silver badge

      RE: It's the late 60s/70s all over again.

      Whilst I'm in general agreement with the rediculous fascination with missiles that killed many good aircraft projects in the '60s, I do have to point out that the control link is only an issue for a drone being remotely controlled. It is more probable that the drone in question was not being remotely flown but was instead flying a planned route on autopilot, so there would not be a control stream to hack in the first place. This was not a Predator, stooging around at 10,000 feet so they could use video, this was an EW drone cruising at 50,000 feet and soaking up electronic signals coming out of Iran. The Iranian story is just so full of holes it's like a cheap whore's fishnets.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        This isn't an Iranian story... not unless they now control Christian Science Monitor. Ignore any press releases, too many intelligence agencies are involved - come up with a plausible explanation of how a US drone is now in the custody of the Iranians in one piece.

        1. perlcat

          Like I'd believe something that

          some wide eyed, gullible CSM non-technical reporter would parrot from a wacko republic mouthpiece.

          Most likely, the Iranians that have an actual idea how it got captured were midway into the intro of what happened to their leaders, saw their eyes glaze over indicating [dummy mode:on], and decided that the fish story would be more valuable. These guys have to play it careful, and keep their heads on their shoulders. Stuxnet didn't work out so good for a lot of physicists over there, or so I heard. Maybe the wacko leaders know what really happened, maybe they didn't. The downside to telling their leaders lies is that they either now have to capture more of them at will, or come up with reasons why they can't.

          The persians have perfected intrigue over the past couple thousand years -- there are plots within plots here. They look good (technically speaking anyways -- they have the probe and we do not), so whatever they blather out is given credence way out of proportion to any objective measure of technical feasibility by the gullible and non-technical with their own political/sensationalist ax to grind.

          Sadly, my theory is much more embarrassing. The probe ran low on petrol and went into 'fail-safe' mode, where it slowed and went into landing configuration. Should have been two fail-safe modes. One over friendly territory, and one over hostile territory, where it goes 'boom', or at least catches fire.

          At least, this has to be at least second or third-tier technology -- aggravating and embarrassing to lose, but not devastating. Nobody's going to put first-tier stuff out without self-destruct that explodes at any tme it appears to be compromised. While I wouldn't put utter base stupidity like that past this administration (gunwalkers, the lot of them), something like this is developed over several administrations, and hardly controlled by the administration people anyway.

  16. Big Al

    Easy to forget...

    Amid all the propaganda originating on both sides, it's easy to overlook the fact that the Iranians are actually pretty good at doing science, despite (or perhaps because of?) the restrictions placed upon the country.

    This is, after all, only the 9th country to get a domestically-built satellite into orbit, makes its own bio-implants, is apparently pretty cued up on stem cell research etc etc etc.... before we consider the talents of their few remaining friends. And being within striking range of nuclear-armed Israel, Pakistan, India, Russia and China, not to mention the USA, it's also no surprise that they have an interest in acquiring a nuclear deterrent of their own.

    Underestimating one's (potential or real) enemies because of their perceived cultural, religious or technical inferiority is the classic route to cock-ups like losing this drone, and ultimately to messing up an asymmetric war - as the Israelis found when they wandered into Lebanon last time.

    Iran's adversaries need to raise their game if they want to avoid being made to look like idiots again in future.

    1. The Specialist

      US misunderestimated Iran.

      I'll take my coat.

    2. Oliver 7

      You're either with us or against us!

      Thanks for making that point. There is a tendency in our media for Iran to be portrayed as an unstable and unpredictable menace in the Middle East region. However you only need to put yourself in their shoes to understand their suspicion of the West. Iran has a mortal enemy in close proximity who was effectively created and armed with nuclear weapons by the west. It is supported financially and militarily by the US, still (lest it be forgotten) the only country in history to have used nuclear weapons in hostility. It has borders with two countries that have been invaded, and are still occupied, by the US. Iran also has borders with former Soviet states who have ties with the Americans or permit American activities on their soil. And, putting Israel and its little excursions into Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, Uganda, etc aside (not forgetting Mossad and their activities) this is a list of countries that have been bombed or invaded by the US since WWII.

      Korea and China 1950-53 (Korean War)

      Guatemala 1954

      Indonesia 1958

      Cuba 1959-1961

      Guatemala 1960

      Congo 1964

      Laos 1964-73

      Vietnam 1961-73

      Cambodia 1969-70

      Guatemala 1967-69

      Grenada 1983

      Lebanon 1983, 1984 (both Lebanese and Syrian targets)

      Libya 1986

      El Salvador 1980s

      Nicaragua 1980s

      Iran 1987

      Panama 1989

      Iraq 1991 (Persian Gulf War)

      Kuwait 1991

      Somalia 1993

      Bosnia 1994, 1995

      Sudan 1998

      Afghanistan 1998

      Yugoslavia 1999

      Yemen 2002

      Iraq 1991-2003 (bombing)

      Iraq 2003-05

      Afghanistan 2001-05

      Whatever the merits of those actions, if you were Iranian, what would make you think that the US would hesitate to add your country to that list?

      1. Oliver 7

        I failed to spot that Iran was already on the list, which also appears only to run up to 2005 - doh!

        Of course there are then various countries that the US has supplied with arms to pursue it's foreign policy interests, mainly across South America (particularly Columbia) and Africa but also including the Taliban during Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and, of course, Iran itself.

        Incidentally the 1987 incident involving Iran I believe relates to bombing of Iranian oil interests. In 1988 the US also attacked the Iranian navy and shot down an Iranian commercial flight with the loss of 290 lives.

  17. Winkypop Silver badge

    Model planes and kites

    I though these religious extremists were against such western fancies?

  18. sitruc


    Christian Science Monitor... Do not pass go. Bad source is bad.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Oh look

      Someone on the Register comments board just made a knee jerk reaction based on a name.

      The Cristian Science Monitor is a highly respected organ.

    2. Ian 14
      Thumb Down

      A touch of irrational bias perhaps?

      Erm, have you ever read the Christian Science Monitor? Or are you just knee-jerk condemning something because its name associates it with a religion you aren't part of? Would you condemn it quite so quickly if it was called the "Sikh Times" or the "Jewish Chronicle"?

      Well I, not a Christian Scientist I might add, have read it. Many, many newspapers could learn a thing or two about quality, accurate balanced reporting from the CSM. It's certainly better than most British daily papers. The CSM has a good track record of breaking news that doesn't come out in the main-stream media.

    3. Ru

      You are an idiot.

      Their philosophies which you presumably disagree with don't seem interfere with their ability to do journalism. You may find that quite a few interesting things mentioned on the Reg first popped up in CSM.

      By rejecting them on your perception of their faith, you end up no better than any other judgemental zealot out there.

      1. perlcat
        Black Helicopters

        re: sitruc

        You guys are all jumping all over sitruc, and I don't think you are grokking what he is on about.

        This isn't a blanket condemantion of CSM -- just repetition of the GIGO rule.

        They *do* need to consider their source, whose motives are highly suspect on a good day. You can go on and on about Iran's reasons, but at the end of the day, they have motive to not tell the truth. Given that, the reporter should have found an equal but opposite PhD to at a minimum determine if it is feasible or even likely. Given the information in this blog, I'd say the odds are extremely high that we are arguing over Iran's propaganda claim, and countering it with the US' own propaganda claim.

        CSM clearly did not exercise the due diligence a professional journalist should when reporting things they have no clue about, and are repeating what is very likely misinformation at the least, and outright propaganda at the likeliest. Sad, because they often do get it right. Then again, the National Enquirer does, too. Just ask John Edwards.

        I have no patience for reporters that blindly repeat someone else's propaganda, regardless of motive, religion, or employer. It's bad enough when they produce their own garbage information -- passing third-hand propaganda is an insult to the craft.

  19. Spud2go

    This sounds like an opportunity...

    for the U.S. military to pad that budget again - They're going to need to develop a whole new program for this, or rebrand the existing one - either way, & like any good military entity, they will need an appropriate acronym for it. May I suggest "Combative Unsecured Nonencrypted Tactical System"

  20. Andy Roid McUser

    geo-politics aside

    No matter how it was done... its still a pretty cool hack. Dude has some serious bragging rights... well that is until he his killed in an unfortunate Iranian equivalent of McDonald's accident.

    1. Oliver 7

      We are own all your spyplane

  21. mfritz0

    They are idiots

    The best thing they could do, is give it back and apologize for hacking it to cause it to go off course and into their airspace, and say they won't do it again.

    1. Tchou

      I upvoted you because i assumed irony and a forgotten Joke icon.

  22. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    I'm dredging ancient memories here...

    but am I correct in my recollection that there are two encryptions applied to GPS? One which scrambles the lower (highest resolution) bits so that civilian equipment can work but to lower precision, and one that scrambles the lot so that only military systems would work?

    If that were the case, then the US couldn't scramble the lot without making an ipso facto state/declaration of war (and incidentally annoying a lot of drivers who have forgotten what a map is), and as such, in nominal peace time, any automated system that relies on GPS alone for navigation is going to be vulnerable to a 'hey, you're really over there!' signal spoofing attack.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I seem to remember that the system transmits on 3 different bands. There is the open channel that used to have randomly drifting delays added to it, which is accurate to about 30m and is switched off occasionally (without requiring an act of war).

      Then there are a couple of others. The others work perfectly fine all by themselves without the open band (and they need to for when you switch off the open band). In fact by looking at 2 of the bands and calculating the difference between them, you can actually cancel out a lot of the atmospheric variations because of the way they affect the bands differently. To receive the encrypted bands, you need to have the decryption key.

      1. John Smith 19 Gold badge


        "I seem to remember that the system transmits on 3 different bands. There is the open channel that used to have randomly drifting delays added to it, which is accurate to about 30m and is switched off occasionally (without requiring an act of war)."

        No. The original GPS signals consisted of 2 signals transmitted on different frequencies.

        As designed a military receiver would need *both* to get the full military grade accuracy. However the GPS satellites have been upgraded and do transmit other GPS signals designed to have improved characteristics for both military and civilian users.

        Given the *very* large investment in GPS hardware I'm sure how well these have been adopted.

        A US military system would be expected to carry a milspec 2 channel receiver so at a minimum you would need to generate the military version of the code and possibly its encrypted version, along with the civilian version.

  23. This post has been deleted by its author

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    so, was it in Iranian airspace or not?

    I notice the US has not bothered to say whether it was trespassing or not...

    1. Ramazan

      @so, was it in Iranian airspace or not?

      Of course it wasn't, at least from drone's point of view. Obviously, it was flying over American military base in Pakistan spotting beercan garbage and helping base's janitors to keep it clean and landed there without any doubts, and GPS data confirmed that.

    2. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

      A spokesperson has said, "We didn't think it was in Iranian airspace, but the GPS was on the fritz so we couldn't be sure."

    3. BristolBachelor Gold badge

      Iranian airspace

      What do you mean "Iranian airspace". Haven't you been listening? The USA owns all airspace...

  25. FredScummer

    We May Not Have All Of The Info

    It seems kinda strange to me that the US could be stupid enough to allow one of their drones to fall into enemy hands. Yes, I know there are no limits on stupidity, but bear with me....

    I've been wondering whether the US allowed this drone to be captured "alive". Reason might be that if Iran thought they had something really good then they'd take it to wherever they had the facilities to decode it. And if the drone had been smart-programmed it could phone home to give its coordinates, and that could bring in an armageddon strike.

    We shouldna forgit that the US are now out of Iraq and so might be looking for their next world's policeman event.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If you can make Tehran look like Washington to a UAV.

    Presumably, you could make Washington look like Tehran to a UAV too?

    Which would make guidance of some types of nasty flying objects a bit of a problem. They might go to Washington instead of, eeerrr, somewhere else.

    Anon, because I'd prefer my GPS location not to be confused with Tehran, thanks.

    1. perlcat


      Sounds to me like that would solve a lot of problems. Would work almost as satisfyingly as reinstating duelling to settle political disputes.

  27. This post has been deleted by its author

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Well bugger me...

    I didn't really think I'd be right! Christmas definatley has come early. I'll award myself a pint. At least now the diplomats have more muscle to go in and demand their kit back.

  29. hugo tyson

    That would be...

    "hacking and stealing a US aircraft" which was illegally in its sovereign airspace.

    So perhaps legally intercepting and impounding might be better words.

    OK, we don't know either way where it was when interfered with, and probably never will.

  30. Martyn 4
    Black Helicopters

    is it just me

    or does this sound very similar to the plot of the james bond film, tomorrow never dies, where they alter the gps to send a ship of course.

    only this time, its being done wiht drones.

  31. Captain Scarlet


    Operator: Ok the drones landed where you said

    Boss: What do you mean landed?

    Operator: These co-ordinates you wanted the drone to land at, its on your request

    Boss: Not land, spy on them dammit!

    Operator: Your requests does not say spy

    Boss: Erm ok forget this ever happened and claim it was hacked by someone we don't like.

  32. Jim 59


    Difficult to envisage how it could be hacked. And having hacked it, why would Iran boast of the hacking ? Making that info public will just cause the US to take remedial action. Logically, they would just keep taking aircraft for as long as possible. I guess we will never know what really happened here. Maybe it just crash landed and was captured/repaired. Maybe the whole thing is made of cardboard.

    There is stuff going in within Iran, possible a power struggle, and this maybe is all part of that.

    1. Tchou
      Thumb Up

      Or maybe US don't scare them and they want to show it.

      /Thinking out loud

      I wish our politicians in Europe have the balls to do the same.

      /Thinking out loud

  33. Iain 25
    Black Helicopters

    Good work!

    So basically a case of (electronically) waving hands and telling the drone "these are not the satellites you are looking for".

    Go Iran! Clever stuff guys.

  34. Sandtreader

    I just don't buy it

    Even if you could either break the encryption/signature/frequency hopping, or apply microscopic delays in such a way as to fool it into thinking its distance from one or more satellites was greater, we're not talking about just randomly buggering it up, we're presumably talking about getting it to land the right way up, wheels down, somewhere soft.

    Insufficient security of control systems or operator finger trouble all sound infinitely more plausible than a GPS hack.

    1. Jess--

      I havent looked recently but the last pictures I saw only showed the top half of the drone, which made me think that it had not landed wheels down.

      fooling if you have the ability to fool the gps you can make it think that it is flying faster & higher than it really is, which would probably result in it decreasing speed and height,

      repeat this for long enough over somewhere nice and flat and you have a drone that has landed on its belly at low speed that still thinks its flying.

  35. El Presidente

    Just wait 'till the Iranians have their little exhibition of stolen goods and JDAM !!

    game over_insert credit

  36. Anonymous Coward

    No remote destruct / disable?

    If I made one of these things knowing that it may be shot down, tricked, hijacked or even captured in flight with a big fishing net I would ensure it had the ability to be blown up remotely.

    Worth carrying a couple of kilos of semtex or a small EMP device.

    A clockwork timer set to go off half an hour after expected return time might be enough.


  37. Little Fishie
    Black Helicopters

    GPS is triangulation based on distance from the satalite (time delay of the signal)

    Jam the originals and retransmit the the original signals with the required timedelay to indicate the new triangulation point (The GPS itself does not know the time it just determins position based on the diferential timestamps on the signal) . unless the drone has an onboard atomic clock you can drift the time signals forward the miniscule amount away from real time to allow for not being able to transmit a signal in the past.

    No decription required

    the complexity is the timing in the retransmission of the signals

  38. peteh


    I'm sure someone on here can correct my ignorance but!!!

    I understand that the Iranians could probably/possibly spoof the co-ordinates to the drone, thus confusing it. But they'd presumably have to then feed it the the location it was pre-programmed to land at so it'd decide it'd reached it's waypoint and touch down, this would alos need to co-incide with a reasonably level bit of land where it could land with trashing it's self. Perhaps that's why the landing gear wasn't visible.

    Which in turn means they'd need to understand where it came from, which isn't unlikely I suppose.

    Anyone know enough to comment on this?

  39. Robin Bradshaw

    Cutting the wrong cost

    So they spent however many millions building this thing and couldnt afford the £30 or so to add a rubidium atomic clock to detect such GPS shenanigans, its not like ebay isnt full of them

  40. aelfheld

    Don't get too worked up

    Other sources indicate the drone went down in Afghanistan ( and was sent to Iran by the Taliban (

    Don't put much credence in Iranian claims of technical skills - with the possible exception of their facility with Photoshop®.

  41. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What are they gonna do..

    What are Iran going to do with the drone now they have it.. its not like they they could just find the manual on line or anything... oh wait...

    1. Matt Bryant Silver badge

      RE: What are they gonna do..

      "....its not like they they could just find the manual on line or anything...." The Predator family of drones are a completely different product to the drone in question.

  42. Alan Brown Silver badge

    However they got it...

    ...they got it.

    They _could_ return it one piece at a time, as the USA did to a certain CCCP MIG a few decades ago.

    As has already been mentioned, the thing could be full of misleading tech and been designed to be captured. or not.

    There was a hell of a lot of work done by the Allies to prevent the Axis realising their Enigma codes were readable - including putting people in harm's way. The only question is who is whom in this scenario?

  43. NemoWho

    Tell me again.... these things not contain some sort of contingency thermite or such we can activate remotely? I'd like to be the night guard watching over it when it bursts into a smoldering inferno. Guess not.

  44. SharkNose

    Or just a big sting operation?

    No possibility that the US intelligence / military engineered a lot of this? Plant a deliberately simplified or otherwise messed up drone over Iranian airspace, "allow" them to take it over and capture it, maybe the ultimate Trojan horse? Then publically make lots of grumbling noises whilst privately sitting back and laughing their asses off, either having confirmed the type of EW capabilities the Iranians have or maybe even planting some kind of worm etc...also maybe throwing the Iranians well of the trail on how the latest stealth drones operate?

    Also, how does one really jam GPS? It's presumably something that is a highly directional / LOS signal (SHF?), so I can use a directional antenna I assume because I know roughly where the signal will come from? And presumably I know the rough signal strength to be expected so I can discriminate against anything that is out of that expected range?

  45. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    it doesn't make sense,

    the drone is controlled remotely,it should not go to autopilot when losing a GPS has a pilot.

    they should have jammed the Command Center signal to force the drone to autopilot.

    how the hell they could jam frequency they don't know?

  46. Knochen Brittle

    Speaking of Drones ... where IS Lewis Page?

    Regarding the CS article, it makes interesting reading and sounds technically plausible ~ but it must be rather doubtful that any IRGC ECM expert working on this presumably highly-classified military project would so readily volunteer to Scooby the Christian Cub reporter this level of (or indeed any) information about how the interception was done ~ at least not without some fairly hefty consequences arriving simultaneously by door and window as he puts the phone down.

    This therefore looks more likely to be a 'sanctioned' leak by their Military Intelligence, possibly intended as a shot-across-the-bows-type friendly warning to "Just back waaayy the fuck up there, Gringo!" Equally, it could be misinfo, tuned to add perpetual torque to the headspin of the beleaguered Yanki warcrims, while conserving the real method actually used. Either way's a shovel of sand in the ample assbox of Great Satan ";0))

    Also piquant, the sideline from an 'EU source' about Iran having already performed free laser eye surgery on a US spy-sat ~ another commendable, economically asymmetric defence measure which will leave the Pentagonal pussholes pining for fast-acting aluminium blinkers on their video-nasty GameBoyz Toyz, not to mention new CCDs. How to retrofit without the Shuttle is a slight conundrum, but nothing another eleventy trillions bilked from China won't sort, one presumes.

    However, probably the outstanding strategic quinseconce of this Sentinal saga is that the technology/counter-measures will be most rapidly shared, not with the Russians or Chinese, but the next-door-neighbour Pakistani Military, for whom the USA is an 'ally' in roughly the same ratio as Israel is to the Palestinians. The Pakistani crash-upgrade to relevant radar/jamming capabilities should effectively spike longstanding stealth-based plans to attack/rob their very real nuclear weapons, as opposed to some fantasy Iranian ones. Of course, the genius Yanki Generalissimos will nevertheless continue making great progress in pushing patriotic Pakistan into a solid military alliance with Iran and China, and their PPP-coiterie of NATO-issue quislings now teetering on the brink of literal extinction will shortly recieve the final nudge. After which tipping-point, a friendly nuclear umbrella will officially extend to cover Iran, putting paid to further genocidal plots for filthy sneak attacks, fevered dreams of full-spectrum domineering and WW3 on the cheap.

    In the interim, with the Pakistani border shuttered to NATO for indefinite duration, stocks of stool-softener and Pampers™ are running perilously low for the US Latrine Corpse landlocked in Afghanistan, who are reduced to scavenging the hillsides for firewood as they face into the Himalayan winter without the usual surplus of JP8. By contrast, the perennial Taliban warmly appreciate this new supply of opportunity targets to be sniped at leisure with ammo requisitioned from their own trucks stranded on the high passes. Poetic, some might say. And after Hillary's abortive sortie at a 'Color Revolution' by her Pink-Tutu brigade in Moscow, Vlad the Impaler will be in no mood to expedite any shipment of camoflaged incontinence-flannels via his Northern Distribution Network. Thus, brown trousers are back in season, big style ~ butt c'est la vie as a bargaining chip.

    There's one important lesson in all this for Imperial Yankilandia ~ your bully days of aggression with impunity are over ~ and irregardless how heavily the supremacist 'Gott-mit-uns' mindset of the faux-Xtian fanatics retards the uptake, with consistent application leech through it must, even if it leaves the bully in a daze.

    Meanwhile, as starvation stalks the rust-bowls of the bankrupt Imperial Homeland, the rumble of Revolution Mk2 brews in the belly of the militant Masses. And what rough beast, hivemind stirred from sloth at last, slouches towards Washington to purge the ponzi nest of critters?


    PS: To further console SeaLord Page and other apparatchiks, here's a holiday snap of the Pub with no Beer, Kabul Airbase, yesterday ~ please imagine the accompaniment of the world's tiniest ASCII violin while viewing ---> %

    1. Matt Bryant Silver badge

      RE: Speaking of Drones ... where IS Lewis Page?

      LOL, looks like someone started very early on the Christmas eggnog! Doesn't seem to mix well with bile and bitterness.

      I particularly like the dribbling idea that China will somehow provide a nuke umbrella for Iran, what with China being just as busy fighting its own war against Muslim Uighurs in western China. That would be the same Uighur groups linked to teh Taleban, which are happilly killing Chinese government engineers in Afghanistan (China is providing lots of aid and development work to Kharzai's regime, BTW). And completely ignores the fact that China is a mass exporter tot eh West and therefore does not want to rock the boat too much.

      Maybe if you're good, Knochen, Santa will bring you a clue!

      1. Knochen Brittle

        In Doublespeak, LOL == "We are NOT amused", nicht wahr?

        Re. your 'critique' ~ a lightly tossed Red Chinese Herring ~ have a fortune cookie [fortified with unintended irony] for being unembarrassed to flaunt your failure to keep up ... 'PPP-coiterie' refers to the rotten clique currently in government of Pakistan, thus my actual argument was that following their imminent disposal, Pakistan's nuclear umbrella will be extended over Iran to deter a mutual enemy, namely USA + assorted vassals.

        If you think this unlikely, I invite you to earn easy cash in a little wager with me ~ let's deposit £1000 apiece in a joint escrow account [needing both signatures to withdraw] and agree that if, by the end of face-puppet Obama's Residency in the Offal Orifice, either of the following is true ...

        1. Pakistan has not officially* announced 'all options on the table'** to defend Iran against any 3rd state-party aggression

        2. Iran has detonated a nuclear weapon

        ... then I sign and you collect; whereas, if neither, you sign and I collect. Can't say fairer than that ... are you up for it?


        And here's challenge #2, Bomber: To test that wit your incessant LOLing indicates, pray demonstrate the deep political acumen you have acquired at the Breivik School of Foreign Policy by analysing this scenario with >= 1 original thought:

        Take as given that tomorrow, your pack of Pentagovernment Generalissimos, having dropped extra tabs of Tostestermoan™ with their morning coffee, decide to ape out their basic instincts on Iran and with a sneak attack by midday have converted Page's wet dream of Blitzkrieg to reality ~ the facilities at Bushehr, Arak, Mashad and Natanz have each been attacked with a 50KT nuclear warhead and the Tehran Research Reactor's contents spread over a fair part of the capital city by conventional explosives. Cruise missiles aimed to assassinate Kahmenei and Ahmadinejad missed their marks but managed to obliterate a session of 150 MPs sitting in the Parliament, mostly 'Green Movement'. Total casualties are conservatively estimated at 10,000 dead ~ it is now 12:10 ~ your mission, should you choose to accept it, Mr C.. er.. Hunt, is to outline the 3 most probable significant reactions by Iran inside the 1, 5 and 10 year timeframes, showing your reasoning for each option chosen. Good luck!

        Time allowed: open

        * where 'officially' means made public by President, PM, FM, Parliament or Armed Forces Command and not countermanded by any superior instance.

        ** i.e. roughly equivalent to USA's declarations regarding Israel.

        1. Matt Bryant Silver badge

          RE: In Doublespeak, LOL == "We are NOT amused", nicht wahr?

          I can just imagine the letter now:


          Dear Mr Knobless Britlle,

          I am writing to you w.r.t. your submission for the vacant post of Sixties Social Studies chair at London School of Eejits University (henceforth referred to as "LSE"). Whilst we find the general tone of your piece "Social Responsibility in the Face of Overwhelming Capitalist Aggression" to be replete with the levels of pre-judgemental bias required for the role, we cannot approve your submission as we find your premise fails to meet even the low level of reality required by LSE papers.

          Your fellow traveller,

          Comrade Professor R.J. Fruitloop, PhD.


          ".....Pakistan's nuclear umbrella will be extended over Iran...." Where do you think the Iranians are getting their missile and nuke tech from? Where do you think the Palistanis got it? Tech for both has come from North Korea. In order to boost their crumbling economy, the Norks have been selling missile and nuke tech to anyone in the Mid East for years (they were behind the Syrian nuke reactor that the Israelis bombed in 2008). Even the UN has reported on the links between Iran and the Norks and their missile tech ( The death of Kim Jong-il has thrown all that in the air - the Chinese are more likely to assert greater control over what the Norks get up to now Kim is wormfood.

          The problem with your idea that the Pakistanis will happilly provide a nuke umbrella for the Iranians is shown by the complete reliance of the Pakistanis on US aid. Even the most devote ISI commander knows that the withdrawl of US military aid and cash would bankrupt Pakistan, leaving them ripe for a civil war the Pakistani Taleban are likely to win. Due to inherent paranoia and the massive chip on their shoulders, the Pakistani military machine is designed for the next war with India to the East, hence the problems it has had when it has tried dealing with "insurgents" in the North-West. Their whole interference in Afghanistan is due to their paranoia that a stable Afghan would end up allied to much richer and more technically-advanced India and therefore be hostile to Pakistan, giving the Pakistani military nightmares about a war on two fronts. The last thing the Pakistanis would want would be open confrontation with the US whilst US forces are still in Afghanistan, and whilst the US government is getting friendly with India.

          The Pakistanis were very upset by the raid on the Bin Laden compound in Pakistan as it demonstrated how easily the US could strike inside Pakistan if required. The Pakistani military cannot afford to go to open confrontation with the US, and the US already has plans for the Pakistani nukes should they fall into Taleban control (or, just become anything more than an annoyance to the US). The Pakistani nuke unbrella would be more like a cocktail unbrella, and is not likely to be offered.

          So, what are the Pakistanis' options? The Russians are happy to sell them all types of tech for cash, but they are fighting Islamist millitants linked to AQ and therefore to the ISI, so don't count on Russia suddenly deciding to go toe-to-toe with the US over Pakistan should they throw their lot in with Iran. Same goes for China, which is happilly building economic ties all over the World by a clever plan of co-operation and aid, but not confrontation with the US. Hence the convoluted double-game the Pakistan military plays, publicly helping the US even though they don't want to. For the Pakistani military and ruling class, there is no other game in town which will keep them in power.

          Please try again, just for the laughs.

  47. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    I though "Tomorrow never dies" was a *ludicrous* plot for a Bond movie

    Obviously not *quite* ludicrous enough.

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