Can Drones Be Hacked, Tracked, and Used to Carry Passengers? (2022)

Can Drones Be Hacked, Tracked, and Used to Carry Passengers? (1)Jayna Locke, Senior Marketing Manager, Digi International
February 20, 2021

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Drones are developed for increasingly diverse use cases over time.From toys to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) used for military surveillance and combat to a huge range of uses in commercial markets, drones have come a long way since their inception. Commercially, they are now being used for a multitude of IoT applications including real estate marketing, movie making, search and rescue missions, agriculture, food and medical supply delivery, and more.

Companies like Domino’s and UPS have already started using this innovation for delivering pizza and medical samples, respectively. Amazon will also deploy this technology to deliver parcels to your doorstep in the foreseeable future. On top of that, it has been anticipated that the global drone market will escalate to over $43B in 2024.This is a great time to be drone developer.

However, with the soaring popularity of drones, the interest of hackers to hack into them in mid-flight is also increasing, as are concerns for privacy. So, the answer to the question of whether drones can be hacked is, unfortunately, yes. And they can also be used to hack other devices and steal data. This means that with the burgeoning market for drones, there is a critical need for cybersecurity. Let's explore this and other topics of interest to drone developers and enthusiasts.

How Can Drones Be Hacked?

Hacking into a drone is similar to hacking into a computer, and hackers can access them from up to a mile away. They just need to create a connection to your drone by intercepting the signal. The radio signal is usually unencrypted, so there's an interim step to decode it with a packet sniffer. If they can achieve this, block the signal and connect your drone to their device, they can manipulate your gadget to work as they choose.

Let’s take an example of GPS spoofing, a technique hackers can use to send false GPS coordinates to the drone’s receiver. (Note that GPS spoofing can also be used to thwart malicious drones.) As a result, the operator may think that the drone is following the right flying pattern, but it is being steered to a different location. The hacker can crash the drone deliberately or navigate it to the location of their choice to access the data.

A hacked drone can potentially build a backdoor into an organization’s wireless network, causing network interference and threatening productivity as well as profitability. In the event of data theft, the downtime incurred may cost businesses a fortune and damage their relationship with clients or customers. Hackers can also gain access to proprietary information, enabling competitors to access trade secrets.

That's the bad news. The good news is that drones can be secured, just like any other wireless device.

How to Enhance the Security of Drones

Can Drones Be Hacked, Tracked, and Used to Carry Passengers? (2)
For the reasons stated above, it's critical to take measures to secure your drone against threats. Since smart problems have smart solutions, there are many ways to improve drone security.

Drone Developers: Start with Secure Components

Wireless security starts with the manufacturer of your components, and must be addressed at every point along the way, from wireless device design and firmware development to securing the device for end use with secure user permissions. At Digi, we believe in a secure-by-design approach, which means our embedded XBee® devices and ConnectCore® family of system-on-modules have built-in security with Digi TrustFence®, providing the building blocks for development of secure wireless products. We also advise our developers on secure design best practices through our security site, our field application engineers and available Wireless Design Services.

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Perform Frequent Firmware Updates

Naturally, remaining in control of your own device's code is critical. Stay abreast of new security threats as they emerge and ensure your drone is equipped with the latest patches, if you purchase your drone from a manufacturer. And if you are the manufacturer, of course you want to provide security patches to your customers.

Secure the Controller

Whether you use a remote, laptop, or smartphone to control your drone, you need to ensure it doesn't get infected by malware. If possible, try to use the controller only to operate your drone. Thus, you don’t have to download programs or apps on your device that may not be trustworthy. For example, a U.S. military drone was reported to get hacked because the operator used the controller for downloading a video game that came with malware.

Employing best practices for the security of connected devices is just as imperative for drones and the devices they connect to, as it is for other any other wireless device. For example, you can install antivirus software to keep UAV security threats at bay. Be sure to purchase a premium antivirus because "you get what you pay for," and many free antivirus programs are not reliable. They may be able to detect viruses but don’t have the potential to prevent them.

Employ a Virtual Private Network or Create a Private LTE Network

Can Drones Be Hacked, Tracked, and Used to Carry Passengers? (3)
Since hackers can intercept the signal and connect their own device to your drone, another method is the use of a virtual private network (VPN) or private LTE network.

Subscribing to a virtual private network service lets you keep your Internet connection secure from hackers. A VPN acts as a gateway to the Internet and encrypts your connection, preventing hackers from gaining access to your device.

Private LTE networks are a method that is rapidly being adopted today, especially in commercial use such as in contained areas. This method involves creating a non-public wireless network based on cellular LTE technology. Private LTE networks use small cells – similar to Wi-Fi access points – which are installed on site and then operated by a managed service provider (MSP). See our Private LTE Based on CBRS page to learn more about the security and reliability of this methodology, as well as use cases.

Ensure your Drone has a Return to Home (RTH) Mode

RTH mode is a security feature that enables your drone to return to an accessible landing location. Once you set the takeoff position of your drone as a reference point, your gadget will return if it loses signal or its battery drops to a specified level. But make sure to fly your drone in a clear area without interference and update the takeoff point before any flight to ensure it always returns to its starting point.

These are some of the measures you can take to level up the security of your drones. Additionally, you can ensure that you useyour drone in less populated areas where hackers are not a threat, and not to follow the same flying pattern regularly. These measures can help reduce the risk of your drone getting hacked.

(Video) Was Gatwick Hacked?

Can Drones Be Tracked?

Can Drones Be Hacked, Tracked, and Used to Carry Passengers? (4)
The market growth for UAVs has made one thing abundantly clear. Government and military regulations will be regularly issued to protect the privacy of citizens, protect sensitive data and ensure safety. The ubiquitous and potentially risky use of drones by private citizens comes into the spotlight when private drones enter no-fly zones or are found to be used to invade privacy.

Additionally, as we've discussed, drones can be used to hack other devices like servers, spy on networks, intercept data, and disrupt communications. Drones can also be used for criminal intent to survey homes and cars prior to burglary, or enter restricted areas. And the risk of drones being used to deliver malicious payloads is an obvious concern.

How Technologies Can Help in Tracking Malicious Drones

Preventing illegal and malicious use of UAVs means authorities, airports and mission critical operations must be able to track them. Today, drones can be tracked using radar and other technologies such as RF scanners, radarand acoustic sensors.

RF Scanners

Radio-frequency scanners check the electromagnetic spectrum within the protected area to recognize any form of communication between a drone and its controller. However, RF scanners are only effective in the presence of radio signals. Drones that rely on GPS and don’t use signals can’t be detected using this method.

Radar

Radaruses radio frequency (RF) waves, and can be used to identify drones in a given area, whether they use RF, GPS, Wi-Fi or cellular communication. Radar detection relies on an object's radar cross section (RCS)which is essentially its level of detectability when radar signals are reflected off surfaces, and are most effective in detecting surfaceslike metals.However, since any flying object, including birds, can be detected, this method requires high-definition radar and the use of a database of "signatures." Increasingly, AI and machine learning support precise, rapid identification of drones by radar.

Acoustic Sensors

Acoustic sensors can find those drones that radars miss to detect. They are programmed to identify the sounds or vibrations generated by the propellers or motors of drones and run them against a database of acoustic signatures. If a match is found, the system triggers an alert.

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The Market for Drone Detection

In addition to designing and building drones, this is another market opportunity for developers in the private, commercial and government drone sectors. Sophisticated detection solutions like Drone Watcher by DeTect Intelligent Sensors and AirGuard drone detection by 911 Security cansupport safety and security for governments, aviation no-fly zones and mission critical operations against the threat of malicious drones.

Can Drones Be Used for Transporting People?

Can Drones Be Hacked, Tracked, and Used to Carry Passengers? (5)
As weight-bearing drone technology has advanced, they can indeed be used for transporting people. Since the days of The Jetsons - a 1960's futuristic cartoon by Hanna-Barbera Productions – the world has dreamed of a day when flying cars would be a reality. In recent years, a number of companies have been designing and manufacturing passenger drones.

The technology for transporting passengers with drones has been under development for some time. An autonomous drone called Ehang 184, announced in 2018, is acompletely electric passenger drone with four propellers. The self-flying vehicle is capable of carrying two passengers or a total of 460 pounds at a time. Ehang 184 also successfully managed to fly at a cruising speed of 80 miles per hour and completed a routed test flight of 9 miles.

Recently, air mobility trials were announced by a group called the Single European Sky ATM Research (Sesar) U-space demonstration project. The project will be testing smart city air mobility services over the next two years in several cities across Europe - Santiago de Compostela in Spain, Cranfield in the UK and Amsterdam and Rotterdam in the Netherlands. The trialswill include a range of use cases including air taxi operations, cargo transport, delivery of goods and medical equipment, inspection of infrastructures, police surveillance and emergency services support.

Air taxi services are said to be "closer than you think." For example,Uber Air has plans to ferry people from place to place and shows a compelling video on the site with citizens using the same mobile app they currently use for Uber ground services.

Needless to say, these people-carrying drones require an air traffic control system and vertiports where they can land, and be charged and stored. Existing helipads are an option, but they lack space for parking or charging and might not be in regions where people want to travel. So there is much to achieve for this market to come to fruition. When it does, thelaunch of this new class of vehicles will certainly disrupt the mobility sector and transform the way people commute.

The Future of Drone Technology

Drone innovation is exciting, even with its risks and challenges. With the rapid market growth in UAVs for commercial and government use, the opportunities for developers to build drones and related detection and security services provides ample opportunity. For example, an enormous use case for drones moving forward will be environmental stewardship and clean technology – from reducing the use of vehicles that burn fossil fuels to detection and monitoring of forest fires, wildlife and environmental hazards. Technologies supporting advances in this market, including the advance of 5G, AI, machine learning and connected vehicle technology, will enable more sophisticated solutions as they mature.

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Digi International supports the full range of development and deployment needs in IoT and M2M, from planning, prototyping, design and application development to a full suite of embedded solutions and cellular solutions.

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FAQs

Is drone can be hacked? ›

A drone can be hacked by intercepting the signal between the drone itself and the person controlling it. This would be impossible if the signal is encrypted, but many drones use unencrypted communication. This allows a hacker to use a packet sniffer to determine how communication is occurring.

Can drone mobile be hacked? ›

So, the answer to the question of whether drones can be hacked is, unfortunately, yes. And they can also be used to hack other devices and steal data. This means that with the burgeoning market for drones, there is a critical need for cybersecurity.

Are drones a security risk? ›

Besides a major flight safety concern, drones can become a serious cybersecurity threat.

Can a drone hack my WiFi? ›

Using Your Connections Against You

While you're unknowingly using the Internet through Snoopy's WiFi, the drone has access to all the information and data you're sending across the connection. In just a few minutes, the drone can collect your passwords, bank account information, and other personal details.

How do you stop a drone flying over your house? ›

The easiest way to stop a drone flying over your house is to speak to the drone pilot and ask them to avoid the airspace above your property. If they do not listen, you can make a complaint to the local police. Taking matters into your own hands can land you in hot water for property damage.

Can a drone see through walls? ›

No, drones cannot see through walls with standard cameras as the light from indoors cannot penetrate them. The latest technology that comes close uses wifi signals that bounce from indoor objects to give a rough outline.

Can Predator drones be hacked? ›

Iraqi insurgents have reportedly intercepted live video feeds from the U.S. military's Predator drones using a $25.95 Windows application which allows them to track the pilotless aircraft undetected.

How are drones used for surveillance? ›

Drone planes can enter narrow and confined spaces, produce minimal noise, and are equipped with night-vision cameras and thermal sensors. For this reason, they provide imagery that the human eye is unable to detect. UAVs can quickly cover large and difficult-to-reach areas, reducing staff numbers and costs.

What are the disadvantages of using drones? ›

Disadvantages of UAV

UAVs can be hijacked or manipulated. They can also trespass into authorized areas such as airports and military zones. While convenient surveillance is an advantageous use of drones, it can become a disadvantage with severe consequences when done by third parties.

Why are drones used for surveillance? ›

Security and surveillance drones are the ideal tool for security and emergency responders to monitor a situation in real-time and respond as it happens. The high definition imagery provided by security drones allow for accurate and real-time response.

What does a WIFI Cracker do in a drone? ›

Wi-Fi Hacking Drone: Is a drone with a SBC (UDOO) on board. When flying, it scans Wi-Fi signal and try to hack the password of the router found, otherwise, if it's impossible to hack, the UDOO save only the packet that contains the handshake to allow to finish work on the ground.

What is DroneSploit? ›

August 17, 2021. DroneSploit is a dedicated exploit framework which comprises of various drone hacking techniques.

Can drones hear inside your house? ›

Drones can hear inside your house if they're attached to the right audiovisual gear, especially an aerial audio microphone. The extra equipment will facilitate two-way audio, but considering drones' loud noises it's unlikely to discern much.

How do you tell if a drone is watching you at night? ›

The best way to tell if a drone is watching you at night is to detect if the red lights of the drone are facing your direction and the green lights away from you. This means that the drone has the camera oriented towards your general direction.

Can a laser pointer take down a drone? ›

A laser pointer can bring a drone down, especially the high-powered ones. They heat the drone, damage its wiring system, and interfere with the pilot's field of view. However, using a laser pointer to interfere with a drone is illegal, and you can be imprisoned or pay a hefty penalty for the crime.

Can drones lift a person? ›

Bigger drones can carry 0.44 to 0.66 lbs of extra weight with no problems. Heavy-lift drones can lift to 661 lbs, which means they can easily lift a person as well.

How far can a drone camera see? ›

A high-quality drone camera can see 1,500-2,000 feet away during the day. At night, drone cameras can pick up an image about 165 feet away before it becomes blurry. The distance a drone camera can see depends on the terrain, nearby obstacles, quality of the drone camera, and air conditions.

Are drones used by police? ›

Drones are an invaluable tool for police departments tasked with securing and surveilling large-scale events such as sporting events, public gatherings, parades, protests, and riots. They serve as the eyes in the sky for police officers operating on the ground, providing them with a much larger aerial field of view.

Can military drones be tracked? ›

Yes, High-resolution radars are specifically designed for drone detection and tracking.

Can military equipment be hacked? ›

The increasing number of physical digital components on fleets of military vehicles and aircraft makes them increasingly vulnerable to hackers.

Did Iran hack a US drone? ›

In 2011, Iran allegedly used a spoofing technique — hacking the drone's controls — to bring down a U.S. RQ-170 Sentinel drone and commandeer it into Iran, causing tensions but no notable escalation.

How long can a surveillance drone stay in the air? ›

Most drones come with a rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack. The maximum flight time per charge varies depending on the model. Most enterprise-grade drones used in police work can stay in the air for more than 30 minutes. The DJI M300 can stay in the air for up to 55 minutes.

How can you identify a surveillance drone? ›

Some drones emit both blinking and non-blinking lights, which will help you in spotting the drone as it moves closer to you. Surveillance drones usually don't have dim navigation lights, but instead have bright anti-collision lights that will help you easily spot the drone as soon as it comes close to you.

How far can a police drone fly? ›

Current UAS technology

Commercial, off-the-shelf models are now capable of flying to ranges of more than 5 miles, speeds of 50+ mph, flight times of 30 minutes or more, and with both visual and thermal camera systems for day and night operations.

How high can a drone fly? ›

The maximum altitude that a drone can fly is 10 kilometres (33,000 feet), as evidenced by both military drones and youtube videos of adventurers. Drones with rotating rotors get a physical limit of roughly 10 kilometres (33.000ft).

How much do drones cost? ›

The average drone price can go from $30 all the way up to $13,000 and beyond. Toy drones will cost on average from $30 to $90 while drones used for photographing and are considered entry level can range from $299 to $499. For mid-level consumer drones, expect between $600 and $1000.

Who uses drones for surveillance? ›

Law enforcement agencies use drones for mass surveillance, crime investigation, search and rescue operations, locating stolen goods, and surveying land and infrastructure.

What information do drones collect? ›

Data collection, once entirely Earth-bound, is no longer limited by physical capabilities. Airborne drones allow people to photograph, video, map, survey and inspect where nobody can physically be, powering a vast world of industries with real-time insights.

How good are military drone cameras? ›

It offers 900 times the number of pixels of a 2 megapixel camera found in some mobile phones. The system can provide real-time video streams at the rate of 10 frames a second. The army said that was enough to track people and vehicles from altitudes above 20,000 feet (6.1km) across almost 65 square miles (168 sq km).

Can drones be jammed? ›

A drone receives commands from its operator via a radio link which can be lost if the signal is overwhelmed by radio noise, either due to interference or deliberate jamming on the same frequency. A jammed drone may return to the last location where it could receive commands, attempt a soft landing or simply crash.

Can Predator drones be hacked? ›

Iraqi insurgents have reportedly intercepted live video feeds from the U.S. military's Predator drones using a $25.95 Windows application which allows them to track the pilotless aircraft undetected.

Can military drones be tracked? ›

Yes, High-resolution radars are specifically designed for drone detection and tracking.

How does drone communication work? ›

Civilian UAV communications systems typically operate on frequencies of 2.4 GHz and 5.8 GHz. UAV communications systems work by using one frequency to control the aerial vehicle from the ground via a remote pilot while the other frequency is used to beam data or relay First-Person View (FPV) video.

Can a laser pointer take down a drone? ›

A laser pointer can bring a drone down, especially the high-powered ones. They heat the drone, damage its wiring system, and interfere with the pilot's field of view. However, using a laser pointer to interfere with a drone is illegal, and you can be imprisoned or pay a hefty penalty for the crime.

How do you tell if a drone is watching you at night? ›

The best way to tell if a drone is watching you at night is to detect if the red lights of the drone are facing your direction and the green lights away from you. This means that the drone has the camera oriented towards your general direction.

What can I do if a drone is spying on you? ›

If you feel a drone is spying on you, you should call the police or report it to the FAA. The appropriate authority to deal with cases of a spying drone is the local police force that deals with complaints of stalking or peeping toms. You may call in the FAA if the drone is being operated illegally or in an unsafe way.

Can military equipment be hacked? ›

The increasing number of physical digital components on fleets of military vehicles and aircraft makes them increasingly vulnerable to hackers.

Did Iran hack a US drone? ›

In 2011, Iran allegedly used a spoofing technique — hacking the drone's controls — to bring down a U.S. RQ-170 Sentinel drone and commandeer it into Iran, causing tensions but no notable escalation.

Did Iran capture an American drone? ›

WASHINGTON — Iran seized two American maritime drones operating in the Red Sea on Thursday, three U.S. defense officials said, the latest naval incident in a string of late-summer spats between Washington and Tehran.

How far can a drone camera see? ›

A high-quality drone camera can see 1,500-2,000 feet away during the day. At night, drone cameras can pick up an image about 165 feet away before it becomes blurry. The distance a drone camera can see depends on the terrain, nearby obstacles, quality of the drone camera, and air conditions.

What color lights do police drones have? ›

The major thing that differentiates police drones from other drones is their strobe light. Police strobe lights have blue and red colors. If you are a few meters away from a police drone at night, one side of the drone will have a red light and the other side will have a blue light.

How far can a police drone fly? ›

Coupled with advanced AI capabilities, 6 directional sensing and positioning and transmission range of up to 15km, this drone could easily be one of the most capable first responders in an emergency situation.

Can drones be controlled remotely? ›

Whether you're new to drones or have been flying them for a while, you must have wondered how drone remote control works. Remote controllers are the reason you can fly your drone to a distance ranging from a few feet to several miles away from you without relying on cables.

Do drones need Wi-Fi to fly? ›

Drones do not require Wi-Fi to fly, including even the ones from the best drone manufacturers. Nevertheless, Wi-Fi will be needed for additional features or when downloading flight applications. Most of them require an application to fly, and that's the only time when the need for Wi-Fi comes in.

How do drones communicate with phones? ›

To connect a drone to your phone, power on the drone and connect to its Wifi network from your phone's settings. Download the respective app for your drone from the App Store or Google Play Store and launch it to complete any configuration settings, and connect the drone to your phone.

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