updated 09:40 pm EST, Thu December 15, 2011
Sources make more dubious claims
A source within the Iranian military has reportedly provided more details into the alleged hack that is claimed to have resulted in the loss of the US RQ-170 Sentinel drone. The unnamed sources have told The Christian Science Monitor that engineers exploited a GPS vulnerability to trick the stealth drone into making an autopilot landing on Iranian soil.
"By [jamming] the communications, you force the bird into autopilot," the sources said. The Iranian government is then claimed to have sent false GPS signals that made the drone believe it was landing at its home base in Afghanistan, "without having to crack the remote-control signals and communications."
Iran has made repeated claims of hacking the US satellite communication and control signals, however the proposed scenario presumes the drone was not using the encrypted GPS signals that are reserved for military use. Spoofing has been a known vulnerability for unencrypted GPS signals, however the US satellites simultaneously transmit protected signals that can only be authenticated by military hardware.
Pictures and video released by the Iranian government suggest the drone sustained modest damage when it landed. The engineer suggests the spoofing attempt failed to take into account an altitude difference of several meters between the official landing strip in Afghanistan and the landing area in Iran.
Iranian authorities have previously claimed to take down US drones running surveillance missions, however the RQ-170 debacle is the first time any corroborating evidence has been presented to the public.