The threat of hacked drones

  • 5 February 2020
  • NormanL

We've written before about government data breaches and the threats hackers pose to our increasingly online infrastructure. But we didn't think we'd see a story like this, which combines hacking, the government, and new tech -- in this case, government drones:

The secretary of the Interior issued an order...grounding all of the Department of the Interior’s non-emergency drones so the agency can assess potential cybersecurity concerns before operating the devices any further.

“Drones for non-emergency operations will remain grounded while the Interior Department reviews the possibility of potential threats and ensures a secure, reliable and consistent drone policy that advances our mission while keeping America safe,” a Department of Interior (DOI) spokesperson said.

The order, which will be temporary, “is intended to better ensure the cybersecurity and supply of American technology of unmanned aircraft systems,” according to the order. Part of the DOI’s concern is that information on American energy, transportation, and defense infrastructure collected by DOI drones “has the potential to be valuable to foreign entities, organizations, and governments,” the order says.

Scary enough that drones collect so much sensitive data. That the data could be open to hackers? That's very bad:

The order comes amid a spate of warnings and bans at multiple government agencies, including the Department of Defense, about possible vulnerabilities in Chinese-made drone systems that could be allowing Beijing to conduct espionage. The Army banned the use of Chinese-made DJI drones three years ago following warnings from the Navy about “highly vulnerable” drone systems.

One memo drafted by the Navy & Marine Corps Small Tactical Unmanned Aircraft Systems Program Manager has warned “images, video and flight records could be uploaded to unsecured servers in other countries via live streaming.” The Navy has also warned adversaries may view video and metadata from drone systems even though the air vehicle is encrypted. The Department of Homeland Security previously warned the private sector their data may be pilfered off if they use commercial drone systems made in China.

Most recently, President Donald Trump signed off last month on barring the U.S. military from purchasing Chinese-made drones in the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act.

More reminders that our hi-tech tools (and toys) pose a host of national security concerns...and that Chinses tech is, or should be, of even greater concern to public and private entities alike.