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Is it a bird? A plane? A civilian drone?

2 min read

Made popular in the last decade as a military tool, drones take on countless shapes, sizes, and purposes.  But these unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are no longer exclusive to military efforts or operations abroad. The Federal Aviation Administration reports that as many as 7,500 commercial drones will be hovering in the U.S. airspace by 2018. Although smaller than militarized versions, civilian drones offer similar capabilities in the area of surveillance.

As the use of drones is expanding, businesses are working to harness the power of this technology.  For example, consider the agricultural industry; drones could be programed to scout vast stretches of land, evaluate the terrain, and identify new opportunities for growth. Those same drones could then revisit the landscape and offer agricultural solutions, such as watering and fertilization, all without an individual being airborne.

While drone technology offers benefits to businesses across multiple industries, the public use of drones opens up a new world of cybersecurity risk. While a civilian drone won’t be armed with military weaponry, it may carry cyber-weaponry designed to infiltrate your personal life and extract valuable information. Some risks include:

  • Hackers hijacking legitimate drones.
    Hackers can gain control of a drone and destroy it or hijack it for personal operation. 
  • Drones armed with spyware.
    Popular forms of drone spyware are those that mimic Wi-Fi networks. Applications can make mobile device users believe they’re connecting to a Wi-Fi network, when in reality they’re connecting to the drone and making their data visible.
  • RFID exploitation.
    Companies use supply-chain-oriented drones with RFID (radio frequency identification) scanners and antennas to monitor inventory, but, in the wrong hands, an RFID drone has the potential to scan pockets and purses in hopes of gaining credit card information.
  • Invasion of privacy.
    Drones can intrude on someone’s personal space by flying over a home or up to the windows. And because laws exist to allow aircraft to fly over property, the legality of drones flying over personal property is a bit unclear.

Because civilian drones are a relatively new technology, few safeguards have been developed to protect people from the risks. The most important thing a person can do is to be cautious when connecting to a public Wi-Fi network. People can also consider geo-fencing, creating a virtual barrier restricting the use of devices outfitted with GPS, but this technology will be ineffective against autonomous drones that fly without GPS.

Even with security measures in place, vulnerabilities in drones will still exist. While drone technology offers a variety of benefits for military operations, business practices, and recreational use, it’s critical that the public does not haphazardly adopt this technology without first establishing adequate controls.

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