Hacking best way to tackle attacks by drones, say experts

Sunilchandra Dal
Saturday, 18 August 2018

Experts have realised the importance of developing drones that are hack-proof. While hacking into drones appears to be catching on, for the time being, both hacking and physically shooting down drones is likely to remain the top options for defending against drones.

Recently, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro was attacked by a pair of explosive-carrying drones. Though both drones exploded, Maduro escaped unhurt. This is the first known case in which drones were used to try to assassinate the president of a country. Drones can manoeuvre into any place unnoticed. Equipped with cameras, the drones can fly over buildings and factories and take photographs. Some drones can even see through walls, creating high-resolution floor plans of the facility inside, according to experts.

According to Sumit Dutta, writing for Defence iQ, there is a wide range of defence techniques available against drones. He says the most obvious low-tech solution is to knock the drone out of the air with another object, which is the equivalent of anti-air and missile defence on a smaller scale.

Another option is to fire a net to physically capture the drone before dropping it to the ground by a parachute.

Other defences include using drones with nets to capture the target drone. The drone has a net suspended from it and flies in such a way that the target drone gets entangled in the net. According to the website Fortune, the French army is training eagles to bring down drones. The birds are said to be natural drone fighters with the ability to spot targets over a mile away and to reach speeds over 150 mph when diving for prey.

Patrick Howell O’Neill, writing for Cyberscoop, points out the growing use of drones for military and espionage. He narrates how last year, an Israeli firm Septier Communications announced the first drone to listen in on phone calls and data passing through smartphones. The drone has interceptors for 2G, 3G and 4G networks. With an interception range of 1 km, the drone cannot be detected by its target. O’Neill suggests this drone most likely utilises close proximity downgrade attacks that force a device on a high-security network like 4G to downgrade to less secure networks like 2G.

Dutta points out that destroying a drone may harm people on the ground if those drones have been rigged with explosives or other hazardous material.

O’Neill says there are 89 major products in the drone defence market. He says the most interesting anti-drone tactic may be hacking into them. He gives the example of ApolloShield, a firm founded in 2015, which sells a ‘CyberBox’ for detecting and taking over drones. The product uses a range of radio frequency jamming techniques, denial-of-service attacks and other techniques to trick the drone or even take it over completely.

O’Neill says commercially available drones don’t have much security built in and so it is not difficult for a sophisticated hacker to take one over.

O’Neill gives examples of Department 13’s Mesmer which actively hacks the connection between the pilot and the drone by manipulating the radio communication protocol. The operator can then force the drone to land or return home.

The British-made Anti-UAV Defence System (AUDS) combines electronic-scanning radar target detection, electro-optical (EO) tracking and directional RF inhibition capability. The system can not only detect a drone five miles (8 km) away but will track it, classify it and disrupt its flight. According to Infosec Institute, the United States’ Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) last year announced that their researchers were working on a project codenamed HACMS (High Assurance Cyber Military Systems) for the design of a software that is able to thwart cyber-attacks once deployed in any context, like a defence system or a drone. The drones use a software that prevents cyber-attacks, in particular, any interference with the control and navigation systems of the vehicle from hackers.

Experts have realised the importance of developing drones that are hack-proof. While hacking into drones appears to be catching on, for the time being, both hacking and physically shooting down drones is likely to remain the top options for defending against drones.

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