In today’s ever-accelerating technological world, it’s no surprise that drones have been evolving to every imaginable end. Recent FAA reports indicate that while there are currently over 770,000 registered drones in the US, that number is expected to “more than triple in size from 1.1 million UAVs [currently, including unregistered and commercial drones] to 3.55 million, and the number of commercial vehicles to grow tenfold to 442,000 by 2021. Pilot licenses, meanwhile, will jump from 37,000 to 281,300 in five years.” -Engadget.com
While the vast majority of drones have been utilized in an ethical and legal fashion, the door is wide open for opportunistic exploitation by those who would wish us harm. Whether it’s hacking attempts on your personal Wi-Fi or the creep down the road that won’t let your daughter tan in privacy, drones pose a considerable threat to our personal safety and security. In this article, we will be discussing drone defense and why it’s so important.
Drone Defense: Protecting Yourself From Possible Threats
First, we will review the two main purposes that drones have been developed for. Between data collection and physically interacting with their environment, drones have an incredibly wide range of capabilities. Both capabilities have their own unique challenges that we will explore. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly to you, we will explore what headway has been made in the drone defense market. While the more popular solutions like AR-15 attachments have been limited to government use only, we do have some simple steps you can take to better defend your property from drone surveillance or even attacks.
Drones For Data Collection
Drone development always begins with the best intentions. Unfortunately, opportunistic criminals can repurpose this technology to their own devious ends with little to no previous training. Data collection of all kinds is a way for hackers to cast a massive dragnet to capture as much information as possible and then use their own systems to pick out valuable information.
So, what kind of data are drones currently capable of collecting? From nearly the beginning, drones have been equipped with a live video feed to assist the operator when it flies out of direct line of sight. Since then, countless video configurations have been imagined by drone enthusiasts. This capability of remote flight came with its gaps though. Primary, this revolves around our unspecified air rights. The little case law that has preceded us very loosely and unofficially defines the end of your private airspace at somewhere between 80 and 500 feet.
Due to the justice system not clearly defining at what height our air rights end, drone operators have been caught spying on private property while homeowners conduct private affairs. If you follow that embedded link you’ll read a story about a dad who shot down a drone over his property for spying on his teenage daughter but was later charged with two property crimes for doing so. While the Kentucky solution may not be legally appropriate in every situation, we will address that method later on.
Even bird watchers have adapted drones to their profession by using directional microphones and quieter motors to better track songbirds. Again, the possibility for illegal surveillance surfaces here with little room for recourse or defense.
What do all these have in common? Electronic signals. Therein lies our biggest vulnerability to malicious drone operators. Whether your private Wi-Fi network, or the network at your office; self-contained networks’ (especially intranets) main strength is that they require hackers to be on-site to break into the network. While the physical location has been a deterrent to most criminals, the ability to remotely operate a drone from miles away allows the user to get a hacking computer close enough to the facility to be able to breach the network. What this means is that once the network has been breached, the hacking drone can then connect to every device directly or indirectly connected to that network. If this is your home network, this means all of your sensitive and especially financial information is up for grabs, keystroke by keystroke.
Drones For Physical Tasks
Again, the capability and versatility that drones bring seem to be growing every day. As automation continues to take over the manufacturing industry, drone manufacturers and operators have been pushing the limits of how a drone can physically interact and affect its environment. Whether by delivering your next Amazon Prime package, or dropping grenades in the Middle East, drone delivery systems are vulnerable to exploitation.
Aside from simply dropping payloads, some additional tinkering can yield drones capable of performing simple robotic tasks on board the drone itself. That can vary from collecting organics samples for agriculture to rigging an actuator to squeeze a trigger. The teenage owner of this drone was eventually brought in for questioning. Again, if anything this demonstrates how simple it can really be for a determined individual to modify drones to whatever ends imaginable.
How Do I Prepare For These New Threats?
Knowledge is the best way to prepare. As the number of registered drones and drone operators increases, the sheer volume of these airborne assistants will demonstrate the need for property owner’s concerns to be addressed. Despite the capabilities we discussed today, it is important to think critically about the possibility of you personally being targeted. If anything, the biggest risk homeowners face is getting their Wi-Fi networks hacked and compromising all devices connected to that network. For that reason, we will focus on what you can do to best mitigate and prepare for that threat. The best part is, these are all tips you can implement today, on your own network.
Here are a few network security tips from PC Magazine that you can implement today to better protect your Wi-Fi network and connected devices.
- Activate network encryption
- Update your router’s admin username and password
- Change your network name
- Turn off guest networks
- Turn down broadcast power if you find that your wifi signal is reaching out to areas you don’t use like the street or sidewalk.
Active drone defense systems are still in development and the market need for such a system is producing some innovative solutions. In cooperation with Airbus, Dedrone has devised a jamming system that causes just enough disruption to cause an unwelcome drone to lose communication with the pilot. At that point, autopilot takes over and the drone either lands on the spot or returns to the point it took off from. While this system is still new and best utilized for large commercial or infrastructural facilitates, it is likely to be scaled down and made available to the public in the near future.
Finally, remember the Kentucky solution? That got me thinking, is that a contingency worth preparing for? Since there still has not been a clear definition of air rights, the best we can do is prepare for the threat now and wait for legislation to catch up.
While shooting clay pigeons has been the best aerial replication of flight for target shooting thus far, Gnat Warfare has been developing drone targets that better replicate today’s drone flight patterns and behavior. Again, while it is very unlikely that you personally will be targeted by a handgun-toting drone, gun owners already know the value of preparing for the worst. Gnat Warfare operates and sells ground-based and flying drone targets. This is a great way to get some hands-on, real world experience in shooting down drones that are controlled by a human operator.
Here is some footage provided by one of the founders, George Ford. In it, Gnat Warfare demonstrates some of their aerial drone drills along with the ground-based scenarios. While they have been focused on meeting current demand, Ford assured us that they have been researching and developing aerial threat training programs. Even now, you can hire Gnat Warfare to come out to you and run a drone shoot just for the fun of it!
In conclusion, simply learning about drone developments is the best way to prepare for these devices becoming more integrated into our lives. Lack of knowledge or half-truths spread by alarmists can end up hindering or even halting the progress we’ve made. That is exactly why this information was presented in the format you saw today. The best advice I can give is to follow those network security tips and stay abreast of the industry developments. Stay safe, and share your drone experience with us in the comments!
What do you think about the drones being integrated into our lives? Please let us know in the comments section below!