Drones: New Target for Hackers

Source: 2005 Naval Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Demo/ Wikipedia

If thousands of drones flying in US airspace were not worrisome enough, new research shows that terrorist may be able to turn these unmanned aerial vehicles into weapons. A team of researchers at the University of Texas found out that by spoofing the GPS receivers of a UAV, anyone with the right technical knowledge and tools can control a drone and do its bidding.

Hackers usually take advantage of a GPS jammer to mess with the vehicle’s navigation system. In fact, this was the technology used when Iran took over a US drone last December. On the other hand, spoofers are more advanced. They can control a drone’s navigation by using distorted information and trick the system by making it look authentic.

Professor Todd Humphreys and his team at the Radionavigation Laboratory used a $1000 spoofer. Its signal power is greater than that of satellites, and it can hack a small spy drone to change its route and behavior. They also researched methods for detecting spoof attacks.

As Humphrey told Fox News: “In five or ten years you have 30,000 drones in the airspace. Each one of these could be a potential missile used against us.”

As stated under the Federal Aviation Administration Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, the administration allows the wide use of UAVs for private, commercial, and government organizations. Drones could be used to track fugitives, patrol borders, scout property, transport things, manage traffic, monitor crops, manage land, and many more.

Privacy and Environmental Concerns

Other than the hacking concerns, privacy advocates also raised issues about drones having high-tech imaging and listening capabilities that can be used for spying on civilians.

In a letter mailed by US representatives Edward Markey (D-Massachusetts) and Joe Borton (R-Texas) to the FAA in April, they noted that many UAVs can carry video cameras, infrared thermal imagers, radar, and wireless network sniffers: “The surveillance power of drones is amplified when the information from onboard sensors is used in conjunction with facial recognition, behavior analysis, [and] license plate recognition.”

It’s enough to make a person fear that his privacy is being invaded, but the idea that hackers could gain control of thousands of drones is even more terrible.

There is also concern over the noise pollution that can result from 30,000 surveillance drones flying across the sky. A Miami-Dade Police Department official told the National Journal, “Our drone looks like a flying garbage can, and it sounds like a weed whacker. This thing is very, very noisy. It wouldn’t allow you to sneak up on anybody.”

As the US airways are set to get busier in the coming months, the government must do something to counter any threat that hacked or spoofed drones can pose.

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