Can A Drone Be Hacked? What To Do To Prevent It?


can a drone be hacked

One of the most important aspects of drones is their security. Every drone pilot is always worried about their drone security and if it can be hacked. This article will provide the knowledge required to prevent your drone from being hacked.

Yes, a drone can be hacked, once a hacker has established a connection with the drone, he can hack it and control it. Hence you have to make sure you monitor your drone closely when flying and change flight paths occasionally so that people cannot predict your next flight path.

It is a very painful experience to have your drone hacked especially if it is an expensive one. This is one of the reasons why you should learn everything about keeping your drone safe and away from the clutches of hackers. Everything you need to know about preventing your drone from being hacked will be explained in this article.

How To Enhance the Security of Your Drone And Prevent It From Being Hacked

Having known how hackers have access to your drone, it is necessary to know how to prevent your drone from being hacked. A lot of people keep important videos and pictures in their drone’s internal memory some of which are private. When hackers hack your drone, you might even lose your drone forever. Here are some of the ways to prevent your drone from being hacked.

How To Enhance the Security of Your Drone And Prevent It From Being Hacked

Make Use of Secure Components

Purchasing a drone without having the assurance that the manufacturer made the components to be secure is not a good idea. A drone with wireless security starts with the manufacturer and there must be a maintained standard of security, from the wireless device design to the firmware development to having secure end-user permission.

Fly Your Drone In A Malware Free Location

When you are controlling your drone via a tablet, a computer, or a phone, you must be located in a malware-free environment when flying. Flying your drone in a crowded area is not safe as your drone becomes liable to hacking and you would not even know it is being tampered with.

Ensure Your Controller is Firmly Secured

This is a vital step to take in enhancing the security of your drone, you need to ensure your remote controller is not infected by malware. So, it is advisable to use only the controller to operate the drone, instead of downloading apps on your device which may be infected.

Use An Antivirus Software With Your Drone

Install an antivirus program if you are using another device to control your drone so that it cannot be infected by a virus and hacked. You must never delay or postpone an upgrade on an antivirus on the device controlling your drone to make the drone difficult to hack. A premium antivirus is more secure than free antivirus software.

Use A Virtual Private Network or You Create A Private LTE Network

The only way hijackers can gain access to control your drone is by intercepting the signal of your drone. An excellent alternative is to use a virtual private network (VPN) or a private LTE network.

A VPN acts as a gateway between your device and the internet so when you are connected to the remote server, your connection becomes encrypted during communication making it difficult for hackers to have access to. By making use of a VPN service, you can keep your internet connection secure and safe from hackers.

Constantly Monitor Your Drone When Flying

It is important to keep your drone within sight so that you know when the connection is being tampered with by tracking its movement. Keeping an eye on your drone during flight helps you locate any strange behavior of the drone so you can know when to land your drone and take it back home for examination.

Constantly Monitor Your Drone When Flying

Always Change Your Flight Path

When you are always flying your drone in the same path, anyone seeking to hack your drone can easily monitor your drone and know when and where you fly making it easy for them to hack it. But when you change your flight path occasionally, your flying becomes unpredictable and difficult to locate and hack.

Use A Sel 4 Operating System For Your Drone

This operating system helps in isolating the varying functions of the drone you are using it with which prevents the entire system of the drone from being compromised. The SeL 4 operating system cannot be hacked, so it is one of the safest ways to prevent your drone from being hacked.

Purchase Quality And Reliable Drones

Drones nowadays are manufactured to be difficult to hack. When you purchase a drone of low quality, you are more liable to hackers so you have to make sure you are buying a strong drone with high quality.

Before buying a drone, make sure you have researched different drone brands and their security systems to be sure you are buying a drone of high quality.

Purchase A drone With Return To Home Feature

A drone with a return to home (RTH) mode can return to a landing location you must have programmed into it. The RTH mode is a good security feature so when your drone has low battery power or it loses signal with the controller, it will fly back to the location you set as the home point.

You need to update the home point first before you fly your drone, this is a safety precaution.

Use a block-chain for your drone

A block-chain is a technology that helps store your data on a decentralized ledger. So, before anyone can have access to the data stored on your drone, they will have to input an authentication code that only you know about. This help eliminates the risk of your drone being hacked, keeping your information private and your drone secured.

Use a block chain for your drone

Use a GPS firewall

A GPS firewall helps protect your drone from GPS spoofing, a common technique used by hackers to hack a drone. This provides security for your drone’s GPS signal to prevent it from being hacked and controlled by unknown access.

The GPS firewall is placed between the GPS antenna and receiver to provide protection which makes it difficult for someone else to enter the GPS receiver system.

Update The Firmware Frequently

Having firm control over the security key of your drone is very critical and since hackers and hijackers are continuously working on new ways to gain access to the drones secure key.

Every drone comes with firmware that needs to be updated regularly. This firmware helps protect the drone against every security threat making it impossible for hackers to have access to it.

As a drone pilot that wants to enhance his drone’s security, you need to keep yourself updated with all the latest patches from the manufacturer. This is why you should only purchase a drone from manufacturers with years of consistency in ensuring the security of their products.

Following these procedures are very essential in keeping your drone safe from hackers. You do not want to be accused of illegal activities performed with your drone just because it was hacked.

Hence, you have to perform the necessary actions required to keep your drone safe and make sure you are not accused of any unlawful activities performed by your drone.

FAA and Drone Security

The issue of drone security is a major problem in the world today as hackers have found different ways to hack into a drone and control it. This is an illegal act and a punishable offense by the law. The FAA has released two new rules for drone flying which includes:

Remote Identification of Drones

Before now, drones can only be identified by the serial number written on the outside, and the person operating the drone cannot be tracked by this method. Hackers have used this to their advantage by using a hacked drone to perform illegal activities and still get away with it. But with this new law, it is easier to track a drone to the main operator especially if it is a hacker using another person’s drone.

Commercial Night Operation

In the past, you can only fly a drone at night after requesting a waiver from the FAA. Now, if you have received additional training and your drone is equipped with exterior lighting, you can legally fly your drone at night and over people. This law is mostly applicable to commercial drones so that goods can be delivered from one place to another irrespective of the time or place.

These laws help in the improvement of drone flying in years to come. One of the major importance of these laws is that it becomes difficult for one to perform illegal activities with a drone because it can be traced back to that person even if that person is a hacker and made use of someone else’s drone. The new FAA laws have not been fully implemented yet but will be very soon.

Can You Hijack A Drone?

Yes, it is possible to hijack a drone, different techniques can be used to hijack a drone. You can use drone hacking technology to hijack and take physical control of the drone or to steal data from the drone pilot. Drones are electronics, and so like your mobile phones or laptops, they are also vulnerable to attacks.

There are many people using drones and they are gradually becoming a threat to the safety of the people. Some people use drones to carry out physical attacks and others with illicit intentions use drones to infiltrate cybersecurity.

You are aware that your drone can be hacked and hijacked from you, a drone could also be used to hack other electronic devices. So, the drone that can be hacked can also be used to hack other devices.

There are different popular ways of hijacking a drone, by using “GPS Spoofing”, using a code known as “Maldrone,” or, the “SkyJack” or, the dubbed “Icarus.” The latter “SkyJack” and “Icarus” are devices you can use to hack drones. We will look at some of the ways a drone can be hijacked.

GPS Spoofing

When you use GPS Spoofing to hijack a drone, you are providing the drone with false GPS coordinates. The drone follows the coordinate you are feeding it with thinking it is still on the original and accurate flight pattern.

A radio signal is usually sent to the GPS receiver of the drone, it tracks and acquires the GPS signals of the drone to get the navigation pattern. Then it produces a false GPS signal which is tracked by the spoofer and calibrates the delay between the production of the spoofed signal and its output.

After the completion of the feedback calibration and there has been enough time to build a navigation data library, the spoofed can hack the drone. The spoofer produces signals that are aligned to the original signals at the location of the target antenna, then it gradually increases the power of the signals above that of the original signals.

When it gets to this point, the hijacker has taken control of the drone, the spoofer now controls the receiver’s tracking loops and can lead the drone to false signals instead of the original signals.

Remote Identification of Drones

The Maldrone

The maldrone is malware that can be used to hijack drones by gaining access through the backdoor. The malware is a malicious code that takes control of the drone remotely and kills the autopilot.

Once a drone has been infected with maldrone, a reverse top connection is established from the drone. After the connection has been established, the hijacker has direct control of the software and the sensors/drivers of the drone.

Although every drone has an existing AR drone piloting program, the malware can kill the autopilot and take control. The attack by the malware on the drone’s sensors and drivers are done silently, so the maldrone can be used for remote surveillance.

One of the early testers of the maldrone said the malware can also be used to attack other drone makers, but for the malware to gain access into the backdoor, it must be within a wireless range.

The SkyJack

The SkyJack is a drone that is designed to seek out, hack, and wirelessly hijack other drones with Wi-Fi distance. The SkyJack software requires a Parrot AR.Drone quadcopter, a Raspberry Pi circuit board, 2 wireless transmitters, and a small battery or USB battery.

The guy responsible for developing the skyjack is a security analyst and hacker who goes by the name, Samy Kamkar, and he said he developed the skyjack to fly around, search for the wireless signal of other drones, disconnect the wireless connection of the drone pilot, take possession and control of the drone.

The SkyJack runs on a Linux machine, and it uses aircrack-ng to get its Wi-Fi card into surveillance mode, detects wireless networks around, deactivates the drone pilots control over his drone, connects it to the hacker drone, and uses node.js and node-ar drone to control it.

Although you do not require a drone to hijack other drones with the SkyJack, once you can run the software on your Linux machine, you can hijack any drone you want remotely.

The Icarus

Another hijacking hardware that you can use is the dubbed Icarus, developed by security researcher Jonathan Andersson. The Icarus can hijack drones in mid-flight, lock the drone pilot out, and gives the hijacker complete access to the drone.

The Icarus cannot only hijack drones, but also cars, helicopters, boats, and other remote-controlled devices that make use of DSMx, a very popular wireless transmission control protocol.

The Icarus functions by exploiting DSMx protocols and grants the hijackers complete control over the target drones. This is a loophole created because the DSMx protocols do not encrypt the secret key that pairs the drone and the remote control. The hijacker can steal the secret key by launching several attacks on the DSMx protocol.

Once the hijacker has the secret key of the drone, he can restrict the access of the pilot to the drone by sending malicious packets. The original pilot of the drone loses cannot control the drone again, the drone will only accept commands from the hijacker.

Can Military Drones Be Hacked?

Yes, a military drone can be hacked. Iran hacked a Criminal Investigation Agency (CIA) drone in December 2011 by manipulating the GPS coordinates of the drone and landed the drone safely on the ground.

The Iranian army jammed the frequency of the drone to navigate by GPS, so the drone had to search for available encrypted frequency (as a back-up). The Iranians sent an encrypted message the drone interpreted as the home territory though it was not true, the drone activated land mode and landed miles away from where it was programmed to land.

It is the same trick hackers and hijackers use, they disrupt the signal between the drone and the pilot with the remote control. After disrupting the signal, the hijacker synchronizes his software with the drone and has full access to control it.

A hacked drone can be a backdoor to an organization’s wireless network, if a drone belonging to the CIA or FBI is hacked, the hacker has access to the network of the agency and he can cause network interference.

Final Thoughts

Flying a drone without taking measures to secure it and prevent hackers from hijacking your drone in mid-flight is not a good thing to do. Not many people are aware that drones are also vulnerable devices, so they fly their drones without any security measures in place.

As surprising as it may sound, a military drone can be hacked despite the way security agencies are portrayed to be very secure and very difficult to penetrate in the movies. If Iranians with their level of technology can hijack a drone belonging to the CIA, your hobby drone is very easy to hijack, but with security measures, you can reduce the attacks.

It is one thing to prevent your drone from getting hacked by hijackers, but improving the security of your drone is also of vital importance. Smart problems require smart solutions.

Shawn Manaher

Shawn Manaher loves to play with new toys and dive into new hobbies. As a serial entrepreneur, work definitely comes first but there is always room for hobbies.

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