Did Iran Recover Encrypted Data from the Downed Stealth Drone?

Iranian officials released claims yesterday that they have finished their reverse engineering of the downed US stealth drone and will begin to make a copy. They also claim they have recovered encrypted data from the UAV.

On Sunday, Iranian Brig. General Amir Ali Hajizadeh stated, “The Americans should be aware to what extent we have infiltrated the plane, our experts have full understanding of its components and programs.”

The Iranians released information they say was encrypted flight and maintenance data from internal databases:

“This drone was in California on October 16, 2010, for some technical work and was taken to Kandahar in Afghanistan on November 18, 2010. It conducted flights there but apparently faced problems and US experts were unable to fix it.”

They also claimed that the drone flew over Bin Laden’s compound two weeks before American Special Forces captured the  Al-Qaeda leader.

Though some reports are saying that what the Iranians have actually recovered is basically no more than the drone’s “Black Box”. Iranian Gen. Hajizadeh states, “Had we not accessed the plane’s software and hard discs, we wouldn’t have been able to achieve these facts”.

US officials are denying that Iran was able to recovered any encrypted data. Today, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta stated, “I don’t want to get into the particulars of that program, but I think I can tell you based on my experience that I would seriously question their ability to do what they say they have done.”

Because the stealth drone is a classified system, the public may never know the truth. Iran is most likely not working on reverse engineering the drone by itself, both China and Russia would love to get their hands on this state of the art drone.

If Iran did somehow recover encrypted data, one would have to ask, could they use the information gained to compromise another UAV? The US is using an ever increasing number of automated systems and especially drones as force multipliers.

Back in 2009, now retired USAF Lt. General Dave Deptula stated that during that year, the Air Force trained more drone pilots than fighter and bomber pilots combined. As robotic system usage increases, the US must be sure that the systems are protected against subversion and in the case of captured hardware, that the unit will not give away information that could be used to compromise other systems.