Privacy, Safety, and Security Concerns
The growing popularity of recreational and commercial drones raises concerns related to privacy, safety, and security. Questions arise about who will keep an eye out for suspicious drones and what countermeasures are possible if a drone or drones are being operated illegally or dangerously – or threaten safety, privacy, or security.
Commercial drones are equipped with high resolution cameras and sensors and can capture images from a distance. This makes it very difficult for the average citizen or employee to protect their personal or company privacy. The pilot of a drone flying past could be anyone from a hobbyist to a terrorist, capturing a live video stream, high resolution images, or infrared (IR) heat sensor data.
Drones go beyond street-level views, potentially providing real-time feeds to criminals. There have been reports of criminal organizations breaching security and surveying sensitive locations using drones. Even more concerning is the fact that terrorists and troublemakers are constantly seeking new ways to use drones for potential attacks. For example, in December 2018, the London Gatwick airport was shut down for more than a day due to drone sightings over sensitive areas of the airfield.
Like all connected devices, a drone is susceptible to being hacked to make it unresponsive or crash it so the hacker can take control and use the camera or sensors, fly it away, or steal it. Criminals may hack a drone to anonymously gather images and intelligence for a robbery. Terrorists might take control of a drone or a swarm of drones to carry out an attack.
While the growth of commercial drones creates a burgeoning industry of data collection and data analysis, it also creates the necessity for safeguards and counter-drone measures. Security management plays a vital role in operating drones legally and safely and provides for secure communications and data transfer with the ground. These issues present new opportunities for the commercial drone sector.
Some drone manufacturers include geofencing software with their drones that is designed to enforce restricted airspace, no-fly zones, and sensitive locations as set by local authorities. However, there is no guarantee that geofencing will work all the time or in all locations – or that it cannot be disabled.
To solve hacking and other issues, a new industry has emerged in commercial drone software. Drone flight and data management platforms are being developed that control all functions with a unified interface that is more secure. In the U.S., the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is developing a Remote ID system that will require all drones to broadcast an ID to identify and verify individual drones. This could help reduce the misuse of drones.
More Than 100 Drone Incidents
However, software safeguards and regulations can do only so much. The development of counter-drone technologies is an area that is crucial to the future of the industry. According to drone security company Dedrone, there have been more than 100 drone incidents in just the past 12 months. These include accidental injuries of people caused by drones, drug smuggling, contraband delivered to prison inmates, interference with law enforcement and firefighters, interference with airport operations, and many more. Such incidents cause regulatory bodies to be more cautious when drafting rules for the registration and operation of drones even as they are trying to ease restrictions to allow the industry to grow.
Drone Detection and Countermeasures
Security and safety incidents have spawned a new industry segment dedicated to detecting drones and applying countermeasures. These drone security companies promise to protect organizations from malicious drones by securing their airspace with advanced hardware and software methods. This includes technology to detect drones and their pilots using radio frequency (RF) sensors, radar, IR sensors, and acoustic sensors.
Mitigation includes two main types of countermeasures. Passive measures include leading people to safety, blocking sensitive areas from view, locking doors and gates, turning off sensitive IT infrastructure, and searching for dropped objects.
Active mitigation measures include signal jamming or spoofing of RF or GPS to cause the drone to land, return home, veer away from its flight path, or crash. Firearms, electromagnetic pulse (EMP), and lasers can be used to physically or electronically destroy a drone or blind it so it crashes. Anti-drone nets are another method, but they have a relatively low success rate. Hijacking is possible for known drone models that have security holes and have not been modified.
Many of these active counter-drone methods are highly regulated and require legal approval prior to use. Also, sometimes they are not fully effective against a single drone. Multiply these challenges by a swarm of drones, and the security implications and difficulty level increase exponentially. If stopping one drone is difficult, then a swarm becomes a much greater challenge and danger.
A high profile incident or attack could have a chilling effect on the entire industry. Until effective and legal detection and counter-drone measures are available, this risk will put a necessary damper on the easing of regulations in most countries.
Examples of Technologies in Commercial Drones Subject to Attack, and Industry Solutions
|Technology||Example Threat||Industry Solution|
|Wi-Fi Communications||Spoofing, hijacking, jamming||RF wireless drone detection tool
Design commercial drones with authentication
|GPS Links||Spoofing, intrusion, jamming||Cryptographic authentication signal on civilian radio frequencies|
|Software||Hacking, denial of service||Design software with transit encryption in mind|
|Wireless Sensors||Jamming, denial of service||Secure encryption|
Previous Blog: The Very Real Dangers of Hacked Drones
See my previous blog to learn how to hack a drone and the dangers of hacked drones.