London, Dec 18: An Iranian engineer on Saturday claimed his country managed to ‘trick' a US. drone into landing in Iran by electronically hacking into its navigational weak spot and 'spoofing' its GPS system, reports Christian Science Monitor. .
The CSM report cited a 2003 document suggesting the GPS weakness was long known to the U.S. military.
The RQ-170 Sentinel has been seen on display by Iran's gloating military after it went missing along the Afghan-Iran border earlier this month - but a former Pentagon official said it seems to be a fake.
However the engineer working on the CIA drone's system told the Christian Science Monitor that his country fooled the aircraft into touching down in Iran - instead of its programmed destination.
The engineer claimed the electronic attack made it 'land on its own where we wanted it to, without having to crack the remote-control signals and communications' from the U.S. control centre.
‘The GPS navigation is the weakest point,' he told the C.S. Monitor. ‘By putting noise (jamming) on the communications, you force the bird into autopilot. This is where the bird loses its brain.'
The C.S. Monitor highlighted a report in 2003 - GPS Spoofing Countermeasures - from Los Alamos National Laboratory that appeared to warn of the type of attack claimed by the Iranian engineer.
'A more pernicious attack involves feeding the GPS receiver fake signals so that it believes it is located somewhere in space and time that it is not,' the report states.
'This “spoofing” attack is more elegant than jamming because it is surreptitious.'
A research paper presented at a security conference last October expanded on GPS 'spoofing', describing the 'seamless takeover' of drones and other airborne vehicles using hacking.
U.S. officials have blamed the loss of the drone, which flies at up to 50,000ft, on a malfunction, but have yet to explain its apparently relatively pristine condition after being recovered by the Iranians.
In the last three years, Iran has suffered a series of setbacks in a covert war led by the U.S and Israel.
These include the assassinations of its nuclear scientists, explosions at missile and industrial facilities and a computer virus that sabotaged uranium enrichment plants.
But the ‘engineer's account of how Iran took over one of America's most sophisticated drones suggests Tehran has found a way to hit back', reported the Christian Science Monitor.
But a former Pentagon official, who does not wish to be named, claimed the drone looks like a fake.
It is the wrong colour and the welding along the wing joints does not appear to conform to the stealth design that helps it avoid radar detection, he said.
He questioned why the landing gear was covered up when displayed by the Iranian military.
The drone was used for covert surveillance such as the operation to spy on the Pakistan compound of Osama Bin Laden before he was killed in a U.S. raid in May.
Iranian officials have said the drone came down over eastern Iran, hundreds of miles from the cluster of nuclear sites in the central and north-west of the country.
They believe they can 'mass produce' the captured drone by 'reverse engineering' the aircraft.