Did Iran Really Hack the RQ-170s Maintenance Records?

Happy Monday,

Our old friend the RQ-170 is back in the news again. Yup, Iran claims it has already reverse engineered parts of the jet and it’s encrypted software and it plans to make its own version of Lockheed Martin’s stealthy little drone.

To prove it, the Iranians have said that the data they hacked allowed them to verify that the drone that went down in Iran last December was the same aircraft that was used to spy on Osama bin Laden before the American special operations raid that killed him last year. Tehran also claims that the jet has had some maintenance issues in the year before it crashed. An Iranian Revolutionary Guards general even listed off dates that the jet was shipped to California to have repairs made.

From AP.

He also listed tests and maintenance that the drone had undergone, all of which, he said, had been recorded in the aircraft’s memory. According to Hajizadeh, the drone was taken to California on Oct. 16, 2010, for “technical work” and then to Kandahar, Afghanistan, on Nov. 18, 2010.

He said it carried out flights from Afghanistan but ran into some problems that U.S. experts were unable to fix. Then the drone was taken in December 2010 to Los Angeles, where the aircraft’s sensors underwent testing, Hajizadeh said.

“If we had not achieved access to software and hardware of this aircraft, we would be unable to get these details. Our experts are fully dominant over sections and programs of this plane,” he said.

  • Vaporhead

    Sounds mostly like propoganda, but any “maintenance” information on this bird is properly unencypted and useless.

    • blight_

      True, but admitting to any of the maint implicitly admits that Iran does have the bird. However, stuff like maint records wouldn’t be in an armored black box; suggesting that the bird had to have come down in a fairly controllable fashion?

    • Bill

      The greatest damage has already been done and that is Russia and/or China offering to take it off Iran’s hands. Iran may not be capable in doing material analysis, but Russia and China are.

      Meh, stealth is old-hat as far as tech countries go anyhow.

    • joe

      Or that, y’know, there’s an installation date on the serial number stamp of some of the components?

      Looking at the computer in front of me, I can, for example, see a “tested for electrical safety date” sticker.

  • Vaporhead


  • iNevi

    What are the chances that China or even Russia did all the legwork on the access to the drone and then just offered up some minor details to the Iranians? Hmm.

    • Nadnerbus

      So maybe China and Russia are more “fully dominant over sections and programs of this plane” than the Iranians.

      I wish our talking heads said fun stuff like that. Might just be a translation artifact though, I guess.

    • justsaying

      Iran is not some backwater banana republic that can be overthrown with ease, unfortunate for the Americans. They have a very developed tech and military sector.

    • http://essential-intelligence-network.blogspot.com Essential Intel

      See the report we published in real time with regards to the downing of this drone:
      RQ-170: anatomy of a failed cybernetic society : http://essential-intelligence-network.blogspot.co…

  • Nvictus

    I have the following maintenance log information from my car:

    4/2012 - Oil change
    1/2012 - Oil change, brakes checked
    9/2012 - Oil change, antifreeze added

    I can now reverse engineer my car!

    • Nvictus

      Bah - I’m voting myself down 1 for forgetting to change the dates to 2011 lol

      • LtKitty

        Shut up and take my +1.

    • v0id

      Thank you, sir, for the lol.

    • blight_

      It means you have possession of the vehicle, certainly. If those dates are right, then someone at the mfr or the military knows Iran has the real deal.

  • http://twitter.com/GONZ0HUNTER @GONZ0HUNTER

    maybe it was on a sticker inside the drone?

    • morty

      HA change oil every 50,000 miles or you will lose control of drone

    • joe

      Probably. I’ve rarely seen any major component without a calibration date stamped or stickied on the outside

  • dddd

    There was a very interesting quote from an anonymous official in a recent NYTimes (I believe) article on our intelligence capabilities vis-a-vis Iran’s, in which he said that technicians and policymakers had debated installing a “self-destruct” package in the RQ, only to conclude that it would make the delicately balanced aircraft impossible to fly.

    • Nick T.

      And yet here we are. Talking about the what should have been done to keep it out of enemy hands, as opposed to what can be done.

      • majr0d

        A cruise missile or 2000lb delivered by a B2 would have worked just as well.

        • dddd

          Yeah, but is this thing so sensitive that it is worth risking a broader conflict?

          • tiger

            It’s been going on 30 years. Risk what?

    • majr0d

      ddd - My comments about a cruise missile or 2000lb would have ended this problem seemed to have disappeared. You asked about the risk of war.

      We could always deny it. Seems to work for the Iranians. Look at the five Americans they executed in the Karbala raid.

  • Brian

    We seem to be missing the opportunity here. Let’s load these things with an easy-to-hack copy of the operating and control system. One that contains a back door. That way, if they try to use them against us, we take control through the back door, and use their own knock-off drones against them. It would be like having the bad guys pay for our drone fleet! :-)

    • Brandon

      Who says they didnt already do that? We always find it easy to find DOD and CIA at fault when something like this happens but act surprised to find out they pulled operations off and had cover stories for them. I like the idea and I would prefer it to the Iranians simply taking our drone down or recovering for their benefit. It would be nice is the stuxnet virus was so successful that they decided hmm, lets try to shut down Iran’s revolutionary guard and MOD with a similar virus.

      • Noha307

        Shhhhh, don’t tell them what we’re up to!

    • blight_

      I think you’re giving the CIA too much credit for the occasional human error. If you read the Secret Team, there was a human error that brought a CIA cargo aircraft with station personnel down in the Soviet Union.

    • kim

      If the drone’s control system has any Chinese hardware in it, it probably comes pre-hacked.

  • sdog

    interesting that they claim to be able to reverse engineer this drone, but can’t quite get those f-14’s they got to work quite right.

    • Noha307

      Part of me wants to fight a war with them just to see what would happen when we went up against their Tomcats. (Please note, I don’t actually want to go to war - it’s just a perverse pleasure in my head.)

      Do you think there’s an Iranian version of TOPGUN? (The movie, I mean.)

      • blight_

        Where Hero jock Phantom pilot goes up against Iraqi Mig-28’s on the border, goes to advanced training school and pilots F-4’s against F-5’s or vice versa, then graduates to the Tomcat and uses it against mortal enemy Iraq?

        • Noha307

          First reaction to your post: What’s a MiG-28? (It took me second to remember.)

          (For those who haven’t seen the movie, it’s the fake Soviet/Russian aircraft Tom Cruise fights.)

          • Guest A

            If you havent seen this movie, the terrorists win…

          • Torpedo_Eight

            If you haven’t seen this movie, all you have to do is take Kelly McGillis out of the mix and you have “Rock Hard Gay Waiters”.

      • Ario

        There actually is,Its called Attack on H3(Or “Hamle be H3” in persian) you can watch parts of it on youtube.

    • tiger

      Still flying. F-4’s too.

  • morty

    They can do everything but shoot

    • morty

      HA change oil every 50,000 miles or you will lose control of drone

  • Kole

    I guarantee that they are not that good in micro-electronics.

  • Jonathan

    For the sheer amount of money we spend on these type of drones, and on our technology in general; it should be better.

    Time and time again it comes to light that our technology is amateur and not at all what we would “expect”. On 9/11 we expected that we can track planes in our skies without their beacon transmitting, and that the course changes these planes underwent would be easily picked up by our “air traffic” control as unscheduled. We expected the Pentagon was protected by anti air defenses. We expected that we had tactics that evolved past zerging humvees into a Taliban neighborhood hoping you don’t run over IED”s over get hit with RPG’s. We expected any military base we build would be immune to mortar fire but instead they are just multi million dollar trailer parks with sandbags.

    We expect our forces in South Korea to be so far underground that the NORKS would even be jealous.

    We expect them to have hundreds of thousands of rockets that pop out of the ground and decimate all of the NORK tunnels, artillery, at a moment notice. Disguised as trees, blades of grass, houses, mountains, etc.

    We expect that it is relatively simple to shoot down “artillery” rounds. We have the knowledge to do it, its a matter if we can pull together what we know. Which seems to be what we always do wrong. Not utilizing the smart people we have in this country. They are either sitting in some basement somewhere or being mismanaged by a monopolistic defense contractor.

    We expect that our borders are protected from country’s like North Korea smuggling nuclear weapons in and burying them underneath a house in the middle of “Random American City”.

    We expect that our weapons are made in the USA.

    We expect that the missiles, tanks, and cannons we use are designed by AMERICANS.

    We expect that computer hardware the military uses is proprietary and not easily reverse engineered. And doesn’t run on Windows or commercial designs(because they are poorly designed as surveillance tools against the population and not safe to use in military settings).

    We expect our research is being protected from foreigners.

    We expect that all this money we spend goes to winning wars by stockpiling and planning for the worst “wars of attrition” and nuclear holocaust scenarios.

    We expect our drones that we knowingly fly into enemy territory to be engineered in a way that they normally do not “Land” while there.


    • blight_

      You live in a fantasyland.

      “We expect our forces in South Korea to be so far underground that the NORKS would even be jealous.”

      The only people that dig in like that are on the other side of the border.

      “We expect that computer hardware the military uses is proprietary and not easily reverse engineered. And doesn’t run on Windows or commercial designs”

      Since when? Sure, stuff was coded in Ada, but things are beginning to change. And you don’t need to “run on Windows” to be shut down by malware…that’s classical “windows == insecure” reflex thinking.

      “We expect our research is being protected from foreigners. ”

      Even American engineers can sell out for a big cash payout.

      “We expect that the missiles, tanks, and cannons we use are designed by AMERICANS.”

      Do we?

      120mm smoothbore: Rheinmetall
      We use the Sig Sauer and the 92F for our pistols.
      We use the FN Minimi for light machinegun (M249), the FN GPMG as the medium machinegun (M240).

      We were darn close to using a foreign/American collaboration on our MBT (MBT-70). The Marines have that Growler+French mortar combo. I think our missiles are mostly American, except for the Durandal runway craterer. In any case, you named missiles tanks and cannons…the three segments that tend to be most likely to be American.

      “We expect that it is relatively simple to shoot down “artillery” rounds. We have the knowledge to do it, its a matter if we can pull together what we know. Which seems to be what we always do wrong. Not utilizing the smart people we have in this country. They are either sitting in some basement somewhere or being mismanaged by a monopolistic defense contractor. ”

      Umm…where did you get this one? They have firefinder radar that allows for tracking and trajectory determination, but mating it to a cost-effective means of shooting them down isn’t there.

      • Josh

        We expect Jonathan to be retarded.

    • Noha307

      TL;DR (Although I’m not really sure I can say that w/o being hypocritical.)

      • Nick T.

        TL;DR: The Iranians and Norks have capabilities we can match and our allies are useless. His words not mine.

        Personally I think that a Country that starves it’s own people for money won’t last for Sh*t in any sort of war, and Iran? They figured out how to hack a drone. MAYBE. Humans aren’t so easy. Oh, and wasn’t there a story about how they, um, “let” US forces into their waters? People know where doing bad in Afganistan, but the seem to have forgotten about how fast we crushed Iraq in 2003. Iran and NKorea will be marginally different, even without other countries behind us.

    • Belesari

      John Mac’s etc are actucally more insecure because they have never undergone the constant bombardment that windows goes through. Windows has had to evolve being constantly attacked by malware others havent really.

      • blight_

        I hope the flashback thing exposes Macs as not invulnerable.

        • tiger

          As a Mac user I heard that. BOOOOOO!

        • Brian

          Flashback requires the user to allow a program to be installed. No computer is invulnerable against an idiot user.

          Many windows viruses take advantage of weak programs which are installed and run with full administrator privileges. They can be breached without any user interaction.

    • Jarvis


      You are so right! You hit the nail squarly on the head. Thank you!!!

      In WWII we captured an encryption device from a German submarine before sinking it. This gave us the ability to decrypt their communications and helped Allied powers to defeat the Nazi’s. I’m sure the German leaders and the military command that would have scoffed at the idea that we had captured it and had gained the ability to decrypt their communications.
      The same goes for defeating Japan. Our ability to decrypt thier communications helped us to be ready to counter their plans to attact our naval forces in the Pacific.

      I see a very dangerous line of reasoning in our nation. We refuse to believe that the enemy might have the same abilities to fight a war as we do. We refuse to believe that they might even have gained an advantage in some areas. We believe we are unbeatable.

      Will we wake up in time before it’s too late? I hate to say it, but I doubt it!

      • blight_

        A spy plane going down isn’t quite the same as capturing an Enigma machine, or the previous crypto work against Japanese diplomatic and military encryption systems.

        That said, when they figure out a fast and easy way to crack 256-bit AES…which opens up civilian systems to cyberattack.

        • tiger

          Does not hurt if you have some help here. Oil money can buy a spy. The wikileaks thing proved even a low level boob can walk out the door with classified info. For the right price & a pretty face you can get some programer to walk out to the parking lot with some source code……….

      • Brian

        Most of the crypto stuff is not loaded into non-volitile memory. It is loaded into RAM after the plane starts. Once power is removed, then the secret sauce is lost. They might know which algorithm we are using, but without the keys, they’ll have quite a lot of computing to do to try to break it. Chances are, they can’t do this in a tactically or even strategically relevant timeframe.

  • Void

    If they had actually done so, they wouldn’t admit it.

  • Jayson

    Nothing is ever foolproof for a clever fool.

  • ChrisCicc

    Considering the US doesn’t confirm these details, Iran can say whatever they want and we’d never know the truth.

  • Ron

    Coping technology is not easy. In 1945 Russia did everything they could to copy the B-29 they put their whole nation into it and it took years. By the time they built there 1st B-29 clone the US was flying jet bombers. By time Iran gets it figured out it and can build their own copy of the RQ-170s years will have pasted. By this time the US will retired RQ-170s from service.

    To pull the maintenance record could be done by most computer hackers. The fact that it has taken Iran this long gives me a sense that they are struggling with it. If they would have had this info the week they downed it I would have been concerned. In the end will find out that the maintenance logs are kept in a old school log book in the aircraft…

    • DGR

      Great point. Just because you can copy it, doenst mean you want it. Had the Russians designed there own long range bomber they might very well have gotten the edge on the US early on. Instead they copied the B-29 in an exact nut and bolt format and were stuck fielding an already obsolete aircraft due to the demands of Stalin. Funny trivia fact though, they couldnt find the correct gauge of steel to use (seeing as how they used the metric system) and so they used the closest alternative. The result was a bomber that weighed 4,000 lbs heavier than the American version.

      • kim

        C’mon, the Russian engineers were neither stupid nor incompetent. They just had practically no experience producing large bombers, so reverse engineering the B-29 was an excellent move.

        The B-29 was an extremely advanced aircraft for its time, and incidentally not fully developed before it was rushed into service. I seriously doubt the B-29 crews were more fond of it than they were of the B-17s and the B-24s. On the B-29 copy (Tu-2) the Russians did incorporate a lot of improvements not unlike those found on the B-50, the successor of the B-29.

        Besides there’s a lot more to operating a strategic bomber force than just making large aircraft, and building Tu-2s in large numbers was a shortcut to gaining that experience.

        • kim

          (Correction: The Russian B-29 was the Tu-4)

  • Logan

    Anyone else think this trumpeting of “top secret” data sound a bit too much like Tokyo Rose or Axis Sally?

  • hassani1387

    They have the drone, don’t they? And now we’re expressing disbelief that they could hack it? Look up the word “Hubris”

    • IronV

      They can’t even maintain the F-14s they have… And now, after all this time, they’ve cracked the MAINTENANCE records… fine work.

    • Ron

      It’s not that I’m in disbelief that they could not hack it. I agree they have a downed aircraft that crashed. Who know what condition the computer system is after impact? Or what fail safes where triggered while it was going down. The Russia’s had a complete undamaged copy and it still took them years to backward engineer a B-29. Iran is working with a damaged aircraft which will slow there progress down.
      Working for the US Government has taught that the most sophisticated system will have some primitive method to track service intervals.

    • TMB

      It can’t be that difficult to get those records. It’s not classified information. If you’ve got a fairly new car, the dealership plugs into your car’s computer and with a couple keystrokes they have whatever information your car stores. If the drones are keeping internal logs of their maintenance records, it’s probably as simple as your car’s internal logbook.

  • Shree

    The only good news is that Iranians are too proud to share the plane with Russians or chini…chances of it being reverse enggrd in 10 years maybe 90% but in 2 months r u kidding me…they could have only smelled in this time

  • Lance

    Hard to tell Iran lies all the time for propaganda purposes but its possible they could have get some key data on this plane. Time to put self destruct devices on this things.

  • Jim37F

    I’m just a ground pounder, but I get the feeling that even if the downed RQ-170 was also used over UBL’s compound, somehow I doubt the AF would just leave the images in the memory files months later while on a completely unrelated mission. Its not like image files don’t take up any memory or that a drone has unlimited memory space to save stuff from old missions

  • Kski

    Friends do not lesson to those to bit morons. A few arc light strikes by B-52s can show them whose boss of the middle east

  • Tim UK

    I find it difficult to see why Iran is THE nemesis in the Gulf ? The 9/11 hijackers mainly Saudi and were backed by Saudi money , Pakistan is funding the Taliban and has over a 100 nukes .

    The Iranian leadership are a bunch of despots but when has Iran threatened or attacked another nation ? Why would they attack Israel with a nuke when they would end up killing tens of thousands of Palestinians and Israeli arabs in the process ?

    The sanctions are biting hard and we need to keep up the cyber attacks and CIA/Mossad/MI6 operations , but bombing Iran would be plain dumb.

    Remember Iran has a huge well educated pro-western middle class and sits on more Oil and Gas than anyone , we need to just keep up the pressure and the Mullahs and RG will slowly crumble.

    • tiger

      Glossing over World history since 1979? Neat trick.

    • passingby

      quote: “The sanctions are biting hard and we need to keep up the cyber attacks and CIA/Mossad/MI6 operations”

      Why? … Iran has a right to defend its sovereignty with whatever weapons other countries have developed. Iran has never invaded the US or the UK. The opposite is true - both the US and the UK have invaded Iran, on top of countless subversive operations and sanctions that have killed innocent civilians. This is a mafia-type operation by NATO (a criminal syndicate really).

      By the way, 9-11 was an inside job (one of your favorite CIA/Mossad/MI6 operations). Several so-called “hijackers” that are supposedly dead have been found to alive and well — well enough to be interviewed by the BBC. You didn’t know that? I thought the brits are a few rungs higher on the IQ ladder.

      • passingby

        edit: meant to say ” I thought the brits were a few rungs higher on the IQ ladder THAN Americans.”

        (after all, Britain has or used to have a smarter / better structured / more focused education system and school curriculum than the pathetic “general” “education” favored in American high schools and universities.

      • Praetorian

        Passingby’s goute : By the way, 9-11 was an inside job (one of your favorite CIA/Mossad/MI6 operations). Several so-called “hijackers” that are supposedly dead have been found to alive and well — well enough to be interviewed by the BBC. You didn’t know that? I thought the brits are a few rungs higher on the IQ ladder.

        Citation ??
        I could only find this :


        • Praetorian

          Quote : ^^^^^

    • ami

      you are just so close minded.
      your mind is being controlled by american government and free masons that you speak like this.telling these banana oils you don’t even know who you are.
      excuse me gentleman but just close your dirty mouth and speak truly and faithfully about Iran. don’t share and tell something your government just told you while you, yourself don’t know the reality and truth and even you don’t know who Iranians are.

  • akaa

    it takes thousand of years to decrypt what has been encrypted, now this dump beard dudes take only a few days to get it done? come on

    • tiger

      They are not cave men making fire. They have brains, buy computers & study the same engineering books. Hell, even study here. Give them a bit of tech credit. There are actually other folks on the planet that can do stuff…….

    • Longbow

      Thousands of years? are you nuts? They have computers, and thinkin minds, just like the rest. A few years maybe, but thousands? some …people is thinkin that the US has all the science and tech, and brains in the world. What a lack of humility, not to say worst things.
      Maybe an arrogance like that has led Iran has now an RQ170 ;-)

    • ami

      If we are Iranian so we can do every thing which is our right

  • guest

    How much you want to bet that the avionics and microcontrollers in this thing were taken off-the-shelf from civilian prototyping kits and had minimal to no on-board encryption. Any encryption would have been in the radio links, not in the on-board code. For a few reasons: 1) keep it simple stupid. 2) there’s no way this thing is going down in one piece.

    • Jarvis

      You got it!

  • tom

    when we sent out the RQ-170s , we already have something else allot better in the hangers at area 51.Our policy is never send something we can’t lose.

  • Thunder350

    Iran didn’t hack it, China did and Iran is just taking credit for it.

  • Rob

    Iran maybe can crack/hack nearly every system we have but doesn’t change one fact…. Militarily wone on one, Iran is no match.

    It really boils down to how much they cooperate with Russian and China.

    From my view, our systems are compromised and need redone before a global conflict erupts. As things stand now all our enemies have footholds into all of our network types. Can only hope our alliance has same foothold into their systems.

    • Very earnest

      “Militarily wone on one, Iran is no match.” I agree, the Taliban with some AK’s, RPG’s and fertiliser bombs are no match for the US either.

      • blight_

        They are, if we’re talking small-scale attrition over decades. America isn’t interested in occupation, which puts it on a timetable.

      • Rob

        Afghanistan is a police mission not a war.

        • Thomas L. Nielsen

          Did you ever discuss that point of view with someone who’s actually been there? Or were you being sarcastic? In which case, good on ya, mate :-)

          Regards & all,

          Thomas L. Nielsen

          • Rob

            Taliban have no Navy, Air Force or tanks. We are not destroying vast defense networks or bombarding manufacturing of weapons & military vehicles. We are not conquering cities or taking all their resources and valuables.

            Again, Afghanistan is not a war. We are just using military to police a corrupted country. Nothing more.

    • tiger

      They do not have to match us. They just need to do enough to stop the tankers moving. The markets freek & the prices of oil brings the US to a crawl. $4 a gallon is bad now.

  • Steph

    Guys you have to look at what a statement of this kind looks like “internally” most likey there’s a bunch of “how great are we” retoric going on and all the forces are being praised and funds are being allocated..
    The millitary corruption is using this as a great way to boost income..
    It’s just like the surveillance photo with the man with binoculars in the plane, and the statement about the Strait of Hormuz, I love the way they say “entering the Persian Gulf via the Strait of Hormuz” as if there was a some other way to get in….

  • B.Bradly


  • Rohan

    Don’t worry, still if they have the maintenance records…they are losers. They have to be taught with the ABC of maintenance !!!

  • mp_19

    gee codes can be changed making what iran has useless what a joke iran is now saying that the us navy is asking permission to enter straights of hormuz

  • madmod

    Iranians have drones and have know-how of maintaining and reverse-engineering the operating in this type drone.

  • madmod

    Almost every electro-chip and electronics components are made in China. Americans are brain of all and the Chinese are the makers of all. We just assembly in America.

  • CPT.Taj

    I have a slight hunch and my personal opinion and from what ive heard from a few military officials my self unofficially, what if the drone was meant to be captured… and its subroutines are providing counter intel. on Irans abilities to attempt to “reverse engineer”. I mean come on it was on a black mission for the CIA, but it was meant to operate for the Air Force. For all we know the damn thing could be sitting there gathering intel on them, maybe thats why military officials havnt said a damn thing about it. Neither confirmed nor denied it…

    • tiger

      Sorry, but CIA is not quite known for being that clever Or out of the box. Jack Ryan does not really work there.

      • passingby

        yes. 9-11 is proof.

  • aaron

    honestly guys,,i dont think that what the iranians have is the real thing,,i think its a ploy by the us to fool them,,i mean , just look at that pic,,,i have seen other pics of the real plane and it looks nothing similar to what we have here!

  • Andrew

    I’m sorry, but who cares even if they can reverse engineer them? The engine is less advanced then the F-14s we gave them 30 years ago, and the important stuff was probably damaged in the crash (optics are on the underside) and avionics are probably useless to them.

    Anyway, Who are they going to use them against?
    Israel? Lets see how long the Israelis tolerate something like that.
    Our boats in the Gulf? Sounds like an awesome practice run for the late block Aegis + SM-2 and SM-6 against a LCS target.

  • Elder1

    What is there to encrypt or even worry about anybody finding out about? It has an off the shelf Garrett turbine and a small CPU board for flight control. Might be some terrain following and a radar altimeter. Throw in a good web cam and a satellite telephone and that is about it. The Iranians are probably able to copy it if they have anybody good enough to build a model airplane. I could build one and write the software to run one of those. It isn’t rocket science, literally.