Here’s a relatively old story that somehow snuck past my normally tip-top researchers: the US Department of Homeland Security bet researchers at the University of Texas at Austin $1000 that they couldn’t steal control of a drone. So the Texan geeks got right on it: they spoofed a drone into believing that they were a GPS system then gave it their own instructions. They demonstrated the sploit to DHS officials, using a mini helicopter drone, flown over a stadium in Austin.
When we hear the word drone, most of us think of the unmanned aircraft that fire hellfire missiles at wedding parties and random shepherds in Afghanistan. Fortunately, military drones are (allegedly) controlled via encrypted transmissions, making such a hack impossible. But there are also drones flying around whose control frequencies are entirely unencrypted: “What if you could take down one of these drones delivering FedEx packages and use that as your missile?” Fox News quoted Todd Humphreys of the Radionavigation Lab at the University of Texas.
“That’s the same mentality the 911 attackers had.”
Also, the efficacy of the encryption used by military drones bears some closer investigation: it’s thought that the same method may have been used to bring down a US drone in Iran in 2011.
The BBC piece went on to quote Noel Sharkey, co-founder of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control:
“It’s easy to spoof an unencrypted drone. Anybody technically skilled could do this – it would cost them some £700 for the equipment and that’s it,” he told BBC News.
“It’s very dangerous – if a drone is being directed somewhere using its GPS, [a spoofer] can make it think it’s somewhere else and make it crash into a building, or crash somewhere else, or just steal it and fill it with explosives and direct somewhere.
“But the big worry is – it also means that it wouldn’t be too hard for [a very skilled person] to work out how to un-encrypt military drones and spoof them, and that could be extremely dangerous because they could turn them on the wrong people.
Incidentally, Venezuela (that evil South American country – “evil” because, horror of horrors, its democratically elected government is socialist!!! – has got some drones of its own! (Another story that somehow passed unnoticed by my researchers… someone’s gonna get fired over this…) Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuala, said the drones had been developed as part of military co-operation with Iran and other allies.
In a televised address from the country’s defence ministry, Mr Chavez said the aircraft, of which he said there are currently three, were solely for defensive purposes.
He said Venezuela had also started making grenades and Kalashnikov rifles.
Officials said the drone was part of a system aimed at the surveillance and monitoring of pipelines, dams and other rural infrastructure – which doesn’t quite match what Chavez said about them being for defensive purposes like the grenades and AK47s… but it doesn’t really matter. Hugo Chavez is a great leader, who is widely respected in both South and North America. So no one needs to worry that he intends to make more drones for Venezuala and its global allies.
So next time you see something flying overhead, maybe you should wonder who’s controlling it – and where it’s going to end up… 😉