Drones Changing The Way We See Our World:

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When it comes to drone use, I suppose that courtesy has a different meaning to all. So, where do we draw the line when there are so many benefits to using them, as well as opportunities for drones to be weaponized against us?

Quiet and unmanned, the expanding drone industry has made them prevalent in today’s society. Drones are being used by the military, government, spies, civilians, and criminals; all for various reasons. Ranging in size, they provide insight and access to hard-to-view locations and have the potential to save lives based on their aerial perspective. However, drones are also used for less heroic purposes and support criminal acts. They can used to exploit vulnerable security networks which creates privacy issue for citizens toiling in public places, and they can also be used to transport illegal cargo.

Some people refer to drones as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). No matter the name, they are growing in popularity.  As UAVs are still in the infancy stage, we must wonder what their mature capabilities will look like in the coming years. Drones have become an integral part of the toolset for many businesses and Government. They can reach places and see things that prove difficult for the human to access with other tools. However, it is their duel use and ability to enhance criminal activity that concerns us.   

In addition to their versatility, neighbors of drone operators have fallen victim to nosy aircrafts invading their personal space. Some drones have accidentally crashed into houses, people, pets, and backyard patios. Other drone flights have intentionally been used for spying. The damage of known incidents ranges case-by-case. Nonetheless, the flying cameras have created a distaste for drones and those operating them, by people across the world.

Welcome to the Dark Side:

Due to their relatively cheap prices, drones are accessible to a large number of people, many of which harbor intentions of undermining order and sometimes national security. With the drone industry rapidly expanding, we must stop and understand what is at stake. The booming UAV industry surpassed $1 billion in 2017 and is projected to double that at the close of 2018. This suggests that improving drone security mechanisms may be a great bet for investors. However, it is also a winning formula for tech investors seeking this emerging market. Both terrorist and hackers are accessing the drone as a tool. For the sake of society, it is imperative that we increase investments in security enhancement.

While we have planned, structured, and secured most aspects of our critical infrastructure system, drones create a new dimension in our quest for privacy and security. To date, only a few regulations surround the use of drones. For instance, they must maintain a certain distance when flying near airports and they are prohibited from flying over most stadiums. However, there have been recent discussions to implement the use of drones to maintain air traffic control above large stadium gatherings.

The greatest challenge for law enforcement officials surrounds situations in which drones are accused of looking into bedroom windows and people shooting down the aircrafts of others. How does one prove that s/he was not intentionally spying on a neighbor?  At the same time, when someone detects spying and shoots down a drone, how does one justify destroying someone else’s property in self-defense? These questions continue to perplex regulators.

More unseen activity surrounding drones includes them flying over critical infrastructure and even disrupting networks. That’s right, drones can be used for hacking purposes. Criminals have already learned to equip drones with network interceptors. This technology carried by drones can dial in on vulnerable 2G, 3G, and 4G networks, adding another perspective to the physical threats surrounding critical infrastructure protection.  We simply lack the capacity to control who may be illicitly gaining access to private networks compromised of sensitive information and millions of personal conversations.

Turning the tables, drones can also be hacked. Because they fly over-head and potentially carry payloads, this creates a danger for people below.  In a John Hopkins study, there were several exploits used to hack drones. A cybersecurity research scientist successfully tested wireless network penetration on a popular recreational drone. First, he identified profound vulnerabilities and used them to develop “exploits” in order to disrupt the owner’s control. He explained that an “exploit,” is a piece of software typically directed at a computer program or device to take advantage of a programming error or flaw in that device. The scientist then hit the drone with about 1,000 wireless connection requests in rapid succession, each asking for control of the airborne device. This essentially blew up the central processing unit by overloading it, causing the drone to shut down. If a similar drone attack like this were to happen in real life, the damage to a flying object may endanger lives on the ground.  

Drones create one of those situations we call a cyber-physical concern. A drone hovering over a facility could easily disrupt wireless communications. Even computer communications thought to be on a high-security wireless network can be involuntarily demoted to a lower quality of network based on the drone’s proximity. As a result, any and all information is potentially at risk of being illegally accessed when the right technology and talented hackers are near.

In 2013, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) released a report titled, “Integration of Drones Into Domestic Airspace: Selected Legal Issues”. It discusses the multiple incidents in which drones could be used for “stalking, harassment, voyeurism and wiretapping.” But, there seems to a lot of gray area as the report also states that “determining whether a drone in flight is trespassing upon one’s property may be unusually challenging.” Evidently using one’s best judgement is not a one fits all solution. While federal agencies like NASA and the FAA continue to figure out airspace regulations, it is clear the government must also factor in basic guidelines and restrictions for the recreational user. Flashing forward to 2018, we are beginning to understand the potential for disruption and Congress just might act with a greater sense of urgency. However, I wouldn’t count on it.  They have been fairly lacking in the their oversight responsibilities. Follow Our blog here http://mikeechols.com/

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