Lethal US drone manual leaked on the dark web after IT security blunder

Hacker infiltrated Air Force network via Netgear router vulnerability

Sensitive documents for a US Air Force Reaper combat drone were put up for sale on the dark web after a hacker accessed the files via an unsecured Netgear router.

Recorded Future, a security intelligence provider, spotted the leaked material on the dark web during its attempted sale.

An English-speaking hacker claimed to have access to documents pertaining to the MQ-9 Reaper unmanned vehicle, which is regarded as one of the most advanced and lethal military technologies commissioned in the past two decades and is described as a "true hunter-killer" drone.

"While such course books are not classified materials on their own, in unfriendly hands, they could provide an adversary with the ability to assess technical capabilities and weaknesses in one of the most technologically advanced aircraft," Recorded Future's report noted on the incident.

The security authority, who contacted the thief, is working with law enforcement on the case, said that the perpetrator claimed to have hacked his way to the files via a search engine called Shodan, which allows users to search unsecured IoT devices.

A captain with the 432d aircraft maintenance squadron at Creech Air Force base in Nevada had failed to properly set the transfer protocol settings on his Netgear router, which allowed the hacker to extract the sensitive documents.

Ironically, one of the documents allegedly stolen was the captain's cyber awareness challenge training certificate of completion. Andrei Barysevich, a dark web expert at Recorded Future said that if the hackers claim is true then the captain could face an internal investigation. 

"Since the breach only affected a particular individual and unlikely was broader system compromise, the first step would be evaluating whether a personal or work computer was affected," he said. "If a captain indeed was using his personal computer, an investigation of a potential violation of established protocols for handling sensitive documents might be granted.

"Secondly, broader education of the U.S. Air Force personnel in security hygiene, including proper steps of securing wireless access points must be conducted."

Issues with Netgear routers go back as far as 2016 when security researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania found eight models of the router had a security flaw. Hackers were able to gain access to a home network and any connected device with relative ease.

IT Pro has approached the Creech Air Force Base for comment.

Picture: Shutterstock

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