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Beware the Drones: Are You Secure?

Beware the Drones: Are You Secure?

As I stood, slightly hunched, fighting the gravitational pull from the endless hours of working the conference show floor, I became aware of an ever-increasing volume of buzzing, as if a swarm of hornets had descended from the structural beams supporting the roof of McLean Bible Church. The buzzing increased in proximity and volume. Fellow conference exhibitors sprang to their fatigued feet, like red kangaroos in an Australian desert, also trying to catch a glimpse of the hissing culprit. We realized all the “buzz” was about an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), or more commonly known as a drone. It was fascinating. The Ritz-cracker shaped, battery-operated toy was cautiously yet expertly transporting vendor sponsored, attendee “prize patrol” giveaways including gift cards, and t-shirts: it was being piloted by our conference host technology director. Today’s drones come in all shapes, sizes, and costs. The same for drone security.

Multimillion-dollar military drones now resemble sleek aircraft once only seen in sci-fi movies. Commercial drones can cost thousands of dollars, such as those used in the agriculture industry, hovering high above crops, giving farmers a vivid picture of their fields. On the other hand, recreational mini “quadcopters” can be purchased for under $50.

As [the] size and use of drones [vary] significantly, so do the potential new threats they pose. Recently, the FBI warned that drones could soon be weaponized to facilitate chemical or biological attacks on stadiums, concerts, and other open-air venues. Due to the realistic likelihood of these attacks and additional surveillance worries, drones have been banned over national landmarks, nuclear sites, military bases, and other government facilities.

But we should take personal security precautions. Like most technology, drones have operating systems, network connections, and hardware susceptible to hacking and cyber mischief. Drone captured video footage and images can be compromised: captured drone recordings can be turned against an owner.

Here are a couple of precautionary tips when purchasing or flying a drone:

  1. When remotely controlling a drone from a smartphone, make sure that the phone has proper mobile security software installed. Like the high-profiled Apple’s FaceTime bug, phones and other connected devices are vulnerable to exploits.
  2. When flying your drone, be aware of your location and avoid flying in unsecured networks. Connecting your controls to open and vulnerable networks can result in similar consequences to laptops connecting to open wi-fi networks.
  3. Be aware of your physical surroundings. Civil and criminal penalties for flying your drone in a “no-fly” zone can carry fines up to $250,000 and [three] 3 years in prison.
  4. Purchase your drone from a reputable retailer. Otherwise, you won’t know what else was pre-installed with it or the whereabouts of its parts.

Flying drones is fun. It allows adults to have a toy again. I’m less adventurous: lately, my “adventure” escape from the ever-changing, fast-paced security industry has been the discovery of audiobooks. I am thrilled to say that I have been “reading” more, especially spy novels! (I hope you appreciated my attempt at a Michael Connelly-style introduction to the article.) So, if drones are your thing, stay alert to what all the buzz is about.

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Steven Sundermeier is the Owner of ThirtySeven4, a nationally-respected cyber security firm. You can visit his website at http://www.thirtyseven4.com/