September 22nd, 2022
More than 500,000 drones are currently flying over the U.S., with more than 7 million expected by 2030. A Johns Hopkins study (completed in 2016) exposed the soft underbelly of amateur drones.
Johns Hopkins School of Engineering team leader and cybersecurity scientist Professor Lanier Watkins assigned his master's degree students to the job. The team found 3 ways to interfere with the activity of airborne drones, using just a laptop -- forcing them to land or crash.
Unfortunately, these hacking methods aren't limited to hobby drones. Many commercial drones face the same vulnerabilities - agricultural drones, police drones, commercial drones (Amazon, delivery services), aerial photography and videography drones, and more.
In the rush to produce and sell as many drones as possible, manufacturers often put safety concerns last. As such, such drones can be easily hacked and sent to spy on people, act as flying bomb carriers, and more.
3 Ways to Hack Airborne Drones
Here are 3 methods used during the Johns Hopkins study:
Hacking #1 – DOS attackThe team sent 1,000 wireless connection requests at very short intervals, overloading the drone's central processing unit and shutting it down. This is a well-known and familiar form of cyberattack known as DOS (Denial of Service), and it has been used successfully for drone jammer. When it's done using various multiple sources, it's called DDOS (Distributed Denial of Service). After the aforementioned DOS attack, the drone was forced to land immediately.
Hacker #2 – Packet AttackPackets are digital packets that are sent in a specific order over time. Overload can result when one sends a very large packet, beyond the capability of the receiver. That's exactly what happened in the second hacking attempt tested at Johns Hopkins -- this time the drone crashed).
Hacking #3 – Fake DroneThis time the team sent a persistent fake data packet directly to the drone's ground control unit. The purpose is to make the control unit think it is receiving commands from the drone itself, even though in reality it is just fake data. The team succeeded in convincing the control unit of this, thereby disconnecting the real connection to the drone. The hack made an emergency landing of the drone.
SummarizeA more advanced and sophisticated method of hacking drones is to use deliberate signal jamming (much like jamming and blocking cell phones in schools and public places). This method usually belongs to the corporate and military realms and is not available to private individuals.
Sure enough, these results are underscoring outcomes for both privacy reasons and commercial, commercial, military, and security reasons. One would speculate that military drones are more capable and immune to such cyberattacks, but that remains to be seen.
Drone jammer: Trends in Counter Drone Technology
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Comparison of drone jammer technology between China and the United States
Illegal ways of using drones around the world
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