Lifting the Cloud of Drone Threats in the Homeland – STRATUS
By: Dawn M.K. Zoldi (Colonel, USAF Ret.)
Perception often aligns with reality. For the drone industry, turning the tide of public perception remains a challenge. Safety, privacy, and security top the list of drone-related concerns for the average citizen. Rightfully so. Careless, clueless, and criminal operators operate their drones in a manner that impacts all of these areas, from taking surreptitious pictures to damaging property to the most extreme outcome, causing death.
The first step to address potential drone threats, and allay fears, is detection. Until now, no one product could seamlessly provide comprehensive awareness for those charged to protect us in the homeland. The global leader in airspace security, WhiteFox Defense Technologies, announces , their real-time, cloud-based solution – providing instant detection, notifications, and historical reporting on a computer or mobile device. STRATUS is a game-changer that will ultimately lift the entire drone industry.
The “Criminal” Continue Clouding the Issue
In early April 2021, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) released the unclassified version of the (Threat Assessment), reflecting the collective intel view on the “most direct, serious threats to the United States during the next year.” In addition to various global conflicts and instability, the report calls out specific nation-states (China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea) and transnational issues, including emerging technology, foreign illicit drugs, organized crime, and global terrorism. Connecting the dots with other open-source information, many of these correlate directly to the threat that drones, in the wrong hands, can pose to the homeland.
With regard to emerging technology, the Threat Assessment states, New technologies, rapidly diffusing around the world, put increasingly sophisticated capabilities in the hands of small groups and individuals as well as enhancing the capabilities of nation-states..” As a real-world example of this, in February 2021, Iran’s proxies used . Bad actors often use lessons learned from such successful attacks to export terror in other places, potentially even to the U.S., where Iran “remains interested in developing networks.” In Saudi Arabia, the Iranian proxies targeted civilian infrastructure. In the U.S., the private sector owns 90% of critical infrastructure, making it an equally soft target.
Small groups of criminals have been using drones to smuggle potent illicit drugs across the border. The Threat Assessment indicates these drugs “annually kill tens of thousands of Americans.” According to a March 2021 , “Death From Above: How Criminal Organizations Use of Drones Threatens Americans,” transnational criminal organizations routinely use drones to “move meaningful quantities of highly potent synthetic opioids, along with other drugs laced or cut with synthetic opioids” into the U.S.
The “Clueless and Careless” Also Abound
Media reports of everyday careless and clueless drone operators also remain far too common. Reckless operations are so pervasive that the Federal Aviation Administration (F.A.A.) created a monthly “.” As of April 2021, about 100 reports of U.A.S. sightings roll into the F.A.A. monthly from pilots, law enforcement, and concerned citizens.
The Congress reacted to reports of drone interference of wildfire suppression, law enforcement, or emergency response efforts by creating Section 2205 of the F.A.A. Extension, Safety, and Security Act of 2016, which amended the United States Code to add 49 U.S.C. § 46320, Interference with wildfire suppression, law enforcement, or emergency response effort by operation of unmanned aircraft. This, combined with 2018 F.A.A. , enables the F.A.A. to impose a civil penalty of “not more than $20,000 against an individual who operates a U.A.S. and in so doing knowingly or recklessly interferes” with these critical public safety efforts.
And yet, the threat persists. In November 2020, drone operators blocked an responding to a child having seizures in Ohio and precluded at the 200,000-plus acre Cameron Peak Fire in Colorado.
This kind of risky behavior, in part, drove both Congress to demand and the F.A.A. to publish the relatively new Remote Identification (R.I.D.) Rule. It requires a “digital license plate” for all small drones flying in the U.S. but will not be fully implemented for years (for more on R.I.D., see ) and will only show drones compliant with the rule ).
In the meantime, WhiteFox Defense has developed a scalable and reliable way to detect clueless, careless, and criminal drone flyers. It’s called STRATUS, and it’s the first cloud-based system to detect and track drones.
Detecting Drones…Changing Minds
STRATUS utilizes a network of WhiteFox deployed sensors to literally provide a cloud of coverage never before possible. First responders, public safety, critical infrastructure owners, and others now can access a decentralized network that provides situational awareness of drone activity within the parameters they tailor to their own needs and which they can actively monitor.
For example, security officials can input geo-fence protection areas they want to maintain around a prison. If a drone pierces that protective bubble, STRATUS will provide an instant text or email alert. The officials can then respond directly to the location of the pilot. Hypothetically, suppose the actor falls in the careless category, such as a drone service provider mapping a construction site who inadvertently flew over the protection line. In that case, the responders can then use the drone’s Unique I.D. generated by WhiteFox’s fingerprinting algorithm to “white label” it as a “friendly” known drone. If that drone shows up again, now the officials have a way to identify it.
STRATUS adds another critical tool to the security stack, providing an additional layer of protection. It complements the other solutions in WhiteFox’s security ecosystem, including , which security officials with the proper legal authority can use to mitigate the threat safely. A huge value-add, STRATUS requires no additional equipment. Agencies simply subscribe to the STRATUS software or data feed for real-time tracking, notifications, and historical analysis.
“STRATUS provides an unmatched level of accessibility, transparency, accountability, and unprecedented networked technology. Hence the name,” according to WhiteFox Founder and C.E.O. Luke Fox. “We are proud to launch the world’s first-ever cloud-based drone awareness technology. It will save lives. It will help unlock the immense potential of the commercial drone industry.”
Detecting drones and ultimately changing minds – that’s what STRATUS will contribute to the commercial drone industry. Through STRATUS, WhiteFox is helping to make the skies more safe and secure…one drone at a time.
Dawn M.K. Zoldi (Colonel, USAF, Retired) is a licensed attorney with 28 years of combined active duty military and federal civil service to the Department of the Air Force. She is an internationally recognized expert on unmanned aircraft system law and policy, the Law-Tech Connect™ columnist for Inside Unmanned Systems magazine, a recipient of the Woman to Watch in U.A.S. (Leadership) Award 2019, and the C.E.O. of P3 Tech Consulting L.L.C. For more information, visit her website at: https://www.p3techconsulting.com.
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has penned over 3,000 articles focused on the commercial drone space and is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
For drone industry consulting or writing, Email Miriam.
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