The many future uses and benefits of commercial drone technology are only limited by human imagination (and maybe future FAA regulations). But with every innovation comes a dark side – a Moriarty for every Sherlock. Drones are no exception and, according to a recent federal study (obtained exclusively by CSMonitor.com), UAVs may be particularly vulnerable to Black Hat hackers – a rather scary idea when you consider air safety.
Using a process called “spoofing,” a hacker can transmit a signal which appears to be a GPS beacon. If the signal targets a drone, the aircraft could become confused and crash – which, for many drone users, could represent the loss of a four-to-five-figure investment.
UAV expert Dennis Gormley tells CSMonitor:
“Hacking commercial drones is a serious concern. There are plenty of people who argue we’re not doing enough, even with respect to securing our more sensitive and costly military drones. So, yes, I’m concerned about the civilian side of things.”
As first reported on DRONELIFE, information security company SensePost (in a reverse attempt to counter such hacking) launched open-source software Snoopy in March. The aptly-named program is designed to “hack into mobile Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and radio enabled devices” – especially smartphones. Here’s the really scary part – the sniffer can be installed in a drone to “quickly scan large areas for potential hack-able devices.” Like a bird of prey, such a drone can swoop over a wide swathe of data and pick out the “defenseless little mouse” (i.e. a vulnerable device) ripe for data hacking.
SensePost developer Glenn Wilkinson told the BBC:
“[Hacker drone] can also fly out of audio-visual range – so you can’t see or hear it, meaning you can bypass physical security – men with guns, that sort of thing…Every device we carry emits unique signatures – even pacemakers come with Wi-Fi today. And – holy smokes, what a bad idea.”
Wilkinson adds that the drone’s data collection process is distributed, which means multiple drones could be flown over a city and collect data in real time, transmitting it to a central server.
“So when someone enters the subway, you know that they’re there. Ten minutes later, they exit the subway [and] you notice their next location. You can track them in real time,” he said.
Jason is a longstanding contributor to DroneLife with an avid interest in all things tech. He focuses on anti-drone technologies and the public safety sector; police, fire, and search and rescue.
Beginning his career as a journalist in 1996, Jason has since written and edited thousands of engaging news articles, blog posts, press releases and online content.
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