It’s a black eye for the drone world every time the media reports some new pilot mishap – be it nosedives on the White House lawn (twice), a crash into the Japanese Prime Minister’s office, or drone interference of firefighting units. In addition to facing such PR nightmares, UAV users have something new to fear: What if your drone gets “possessed” by a diabolical, hacker demon?
As Forbes writer Thomas Brewster points out: drone operators should be afraid – very afraid – of a recently discovered vulnerability in GPS tech that would “allow a nearby hacker to spoof signals, change coordinates and commandeer an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) and take it wherever they wanted, whether that’s the White House or Dulles airport.”
Drone hacking is of course not an unknown entity. Last month, leaked e-mails revealed that Boeing may be developing drones armed with malware designed to infect nearby computers through Wi-Fi.
Brewster reported that Chinese researchers have already shown how a hacker can use open source GNU Radio software to usurp the GPS coordinates on a DJI Phantom 3.
“Thanks to free or cheap software defined radio tools, and the old, broken GPS standard, it’s now inexpensive and relatively straightforward to carry out attacks on GPS,” Brewster stated, adding that the hack would unravel DJI’s move to issue a no-fly zone over the Washington, D.C. area since the company used “GPS to implement invisible demarcations stopping users flying their machines into no-fly zones like airports, forcing them to land when they hit certain coordinates.”
At the end of the day, drone makers will continue to face a mountainous PR problem as hackers combine with the more foolish pilots to grab sensationalistic headlines of drone debacles. In fact, unless developers can counter fears of drone crashes or hacks, the entire industry could face the chilling specter of succumbing to a public Frankenstein complex, if not outright media hysteria.
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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