Security researchers have revealed that police drones are susceptible to attacks from hackers. These hijackings can be achieved by hackers with a piece of technology that costs as little as $40. Cyber-terrorists would have the ability to turn on the UAV’s engines, initiate auto-takeoff, have control over its cameras and, ultimately, cause it to crash.
Police drones under threat from hackers
The researcher has announced he will hold a demonstration of these reports at an RSA security conference that will be taking place in San Francisco this year.
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In a bid to highlight drones’ weaknesses to the world, he intends to hack the UAV in front of everyone at the RSA. He told Wired magazine that he will “make the UAV engine’s spin, so the UAV will have to be tied to something heavy during the presentation.”
The expert has informed the manufacturer of the drone, and has released his findings in a thesis. He has not, however, released the model or make of the vulnerable drone.
Drones used for surveillance
The drone, or UAV, has boomed in popularity among consumers and enthusiasts and they are now becoming a tool used by security forces around the world.
These police drones are much more costly than consumer drones due to their advanced specifications. More commonly known as an “Octocopter”, it possesses 8 rotors, can carry large loads, and can remain in flight for more than 30 minutes.
It would set you back a hefty sum at just over $20,000.
Cause for concern
The security expert warned Wired magazine that there exists “no easy fix”. He notes that while it is possible to prevent these attacks using countermeasures, it would mean a recall of the products and an expensive upgrade of its hardware.
Other experts have raised eyebrows at the risks that drones pose. Nils Rodday, an IT Security Consultant at IBM highlights these risks saying, “If you think as an attacker, someone could do this only for fun, or also to cause harm or to make a mess out of a daily surveillance procedure.”
Hacked by an engineering student
It was in fact Nils Rodday himself that discovered the security flaw in a police drone that cost over $30,000 to make. He was able to take control of the drone and maneuver it from a mile away. He did all of this while finishing his graduate studies at the University of Twente, Holland.
To many it is worrying that an engineering student attending university was able to hack a law enforcement’s UAV. David Dunn, head of the Department of Political Science at the University of Birmingham, England, notes that Rodday’s feat “shows both the infancy of this technology and the potential risks presented by the proliferation of these devices.
“As this report shows, drones such as this can be commandeered [and] then be stolen, or redirected to crash into a specific target such as a crowd, building or airliner.
“This report, however, raises the more general issue of the risks presented by the development of a new technology, the use of which is way ahead of preparations to regulate, deter, or defend against its potentially malign uses.”
The future of constant surveillance by unmanned whirring machines is encroaching upon us more each day. A scary thought for many who saw them as mere musings of science fiction writers. Even scarier now to think that these drones can be overpowered by a university student in the comfort of his own home.