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The Rise of Anti-Drone Technology

By 2020, there will be 30,000 drones above us. What is our best defense? Guest blogger Dino Londis explains.

By
QDT Editor
November 4, 2015

Yesterday Walmart announced that it will be using drones to move merchandise from one supercenter to another. Amazon has already said it plans to deliver merchandise to customers in drones over the next few years.

By 2020, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) estimates there will be 30,000 drones above us. And many of those drones won’t be owned by Walmarts and Amazons; they will be owned by your neighbors. Some good and some not so good.

Right now drones are used for all kinds of operations that were impossible just a few years ago. They patrol farmers’ fields and the borders, monitor crops, and inspect oil rigs. Recently, a drone got some amazing photos of a killer whale and her offspring.

Drones aren’t new. Believe it or not they were first tested by the U.S. Navy in 1914. The pilotless planes were radio-controlled and just like today, were designed to deliver bombs to the enemy without threat to a pilot’s life. The project was dropped because the technology wasn’t ready.

A century later the military has perfected the drone, which is used regularly to spy on and kill an enemy 6,000 miles away. And the concept of small unmanned aircrafts, coupled with the low cost of electronics and hardware, has given rise to an affordable consumer drone already beginning to have a devastating impact in surprising places. Along with the promise of drones is the nightmare of drones because they take the anonymity of the Internet and bring it into the real world. You think online trolls are bad? Think what kind of damage they can do when they have access to your person.

Here is a view into a dystopian—not so distant—future:

  • Imagine Paparazzi drones that follow celebrities around all the time waiting them to leave their house, follow them to the store and back again. When the drone runs low on power, a new one is dispatched for the night shift.  Miley Cyrus among others posted a clip of a drone above her in her backyard.
  • A drone gets sucked into a 747 engine on takeoff and brings the plane down like birds had done over the Hudson in 2009. There are so many near misses by drone enthusiasts who are getting unique footage of people in the jets. Imagine what a terrorist cell could do with a handful of these.
  • A drone that robs you at gunpoint. I’m not kidding. Already a teen has mounted and shot a weapon with by remote control. Just put your wallet in the pouch and you won’t get hurt.

So what can we do to protect ourselves from spying drones above us? Can we shoot them down?  The short answer is no. If a drone is idling fifty feet above your sunbathing daughter and you take a shotgun and shoot it down, like William Merideth did in July, you’ll pay the fine, not the drone operator. What’s worse is that the drone operator will likely have HD video of you to show the judge.

As Michael Froomkin, a professor at the University of the Miami School of Law, writes, neither the law nor technology has developed far enough to clarify what constitutes a threat and what measure of self-help is appropriate. Spying is not a threat—at least it’s not a physical threat. So we’re left with existing laws that essentially says, 'I can’t damage your drone unless I feel physically threatened.' Merideth—the guy with the shotgun—was arrested and fined for criminal mischief. He was actually arrested for firing the weapon into the air. He couldn’t deny that bullets came down.

Additionally, Droneshield makes a weapon that emits sound waves, which disrupt the communication between the drone and the pilot. Once the drone is “shot,” it loses communication with the pilot and gracefully lands. It’s designed to combat a drone heading for the White Hose lawn. You can’t get a Droneshield on Amazon, but something like this is on its way. The anti-drone business is about to explode.

Cyborg has a device called the Unplug that detects and kicks surveillance devices from wireless networks, breaking uploads and streams. Unlike a jammer, it only targets unwanted devices—leaving the rest alone. Seems to be good for internal use and you would plug it next to a window. As soon as drone comes too close it kills its video signal. See a demonstration here. I haven’t tried it. It’s only available for preorder.

Other suggest using simple lasers. If you hit the lens, it actually breaks the camera. This happens at concerts. Even simple lasers, like the one that we use to annoy cats, will do it. But by the time you find your laser, it’s too late.

Others advice you to call the police, but I’m wondering how effective that would be when the drone pilot can see them coming.

We’re in an immature state with Anti-drone technology. It’s where drones were ten years ago. But as manufacturers develop professional grade anti-drone devices, those technologies will trickle down to the consumer level. Hopefully sooner rather than later.

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Dino Londis is an Information Security engineer in a midtown Manhattan law firm. He's a member of a team responsible for securing and maintaining digital and physical assets. He also trains employees not to click bad links. Dino writes for Dice, InformationWeek, Invests.com,  aNewDomain and others. Long ago he wrote for National Lampoon and was a comedian in Hollywood. You can read about those experiences here.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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