Drones look a lot like flying computers because drones have operating systems, hardware, network connections, etc. All the components in the drone are code programmed. It means it is easy to hack a drone like a computer. If someone is capable of hacking a computer or laptop, they can hack your drone too.
A hacker gets into the drone system through a laptop, tablet, mobile phone, etc. They intercept the signal and control the drone as they want to. Some drone manufacturers compromise the quality of security to maximize production. It is because consumer drones are not always the target of hackers. There are plenty of tips and tricks to protect the drone from hackers and hacking.
How Drones Can Be Hacked?
There are several ways to hack a drone. Once the drone is located, a hacker can potentially take the control of the drone, or the downlink video and other images that the drone transmits to the base station. It is not technically a difficult task to hack the drone as many drone operators leave the drones open to attack.
GPS spoofing feeds the fake GPS coordinates of the drone. The drone thinks it is following the original flight pattern, but they take it to a different location. A hacker for fun may just want to deliberately crash a drone. But a drone can also be used to crash into a person, car, or, sometimes into another drone.
Also, the drone can be tasked with landing close to the hacker so that they can steal it, along with the payload. The payload can be a camera that can be mounted on the drone, images, or videos stored in the memory card.
Hacking The Command And Control Signal
Drones can be hacked from a mile away. Hacking the command-and-control signal between the operator and the drone can cede full control of the drone and its systems to the hacker. Sometimes, the drone is not encrypted which makes it easier for the hacker to decode the system with a packet analyzer. The signal could also be simply blocked leaving the drone with no way to navigate on its own.
The downlink threats allow a hacker to intercept the data transmitted from the drone to a base station. For example, if the video is streamed from the drone to the controller, such as the First-Person View (FPV) system, then it makes the drone vulnerable. It is because the data is not encrypted, especially in consumer drones.
Tips For Protecting Your Drone From Hackers
Protect The Ground Controller
Whether you are controlling the drone through a computer, mobile device, or tablet, etc. maintaining a malware-free environment is essential. If you lose control of the machine, it could lead to catastrophic results. A drone crashing from any height could cause serious damage and sometimes end someone’s life.
It has happened before in the US military where one of the computers was used as a drone ground station but the games were installed on the same computer. As a result, the computer was infected with malware and allowed the drone to be hacked. Fortunately, malware is something you can control.
You might be familiar with Antivirus programs because they are usually part of the default software on PCs. For example, if you are using a cell phone or tablet to fly the drone, you will be needing an antivirus to protect the drone from hackers. There are several antivirus programs such as Avast or AVG. These antivirus programs prevent the infections that cause problems while piloting the drone.
You might be able to find several antivirus programs for Android smartphones on Google Play. They provide real-time anti-theft protection of the device. Also, similar protection from the vendors is available for iPhones.
Virtual Private Network (VPN)
By subscribing to a virtual private network (VPN) service, you can protect the internet connection of the device. It helps to prevent hackers from breaking into the drone and controller. For this purpose, VPN acts as a gateway between the internet and you. Once you are connected to a remote server, the connection will be encrypted as done in drone light shows. Hence, internet users will be anonymous.
It is sometimes crucial because an unsecured internet connection is one of the easiest points for hackers to infect the drones with malware. Also, a hacker can even take control of the drone and steal it right away.
Drone Protected With seL4 OS
Although the source code is available, it will be difficult to find a drone with the seL4 operating system. It is because drones with such OS are still under development. However, seL4 OS is meant to be the industrial standard for a drone that connects to a network and controls functions as part of the Internet of Things.
The seL4 operating system isolates the various functions of the device that are installed on it. The importance of seL4 OS in drones is because it prevents the whole system from being compromised, even if the hacker somehow manages to break into it. This operating system is like locking a cabin when the plane is being hijacked. In such cases, the pilot which is an operating system in the drone is still safe.
Update The Firmware Regularly
The major drone manufacturers release the patches when new security threats emerge among their users. Regular updates are meant to keep the drone ahead of the hackers. DJI released a security patch when the hackers accessed their website. It allowed them to access the map, photos, videos, and flight logo views of the drone users in real-time.
You can maintain the drone with updated firmware, as it ensures that you have the lowest risk of an attack from the hacker. It is because hackers are more likely to attack drones with weak security systems.
Creating a strong password by mixing letters, numbers, and characters can be one of the best ways to protect your drone from hackers. A strong password deters hackers. As a result, most of them give up on strong security password drones and go for weak security password drones.
When you own a drone, make sure that the base station app is protected with a strong password. You can bypass the passwords that were previously used in privacy breaches. It ensures that the hackers will try different combinations but still, they will not be able to crack it.
Limited Number Of Devices Connected To The Base Station
This is a relatively common safety issue for drones. If you want to reduce the chances of falling victim to successful drone hacking, then first you need to protect the base station. When you specify the number of devices connected to the base station at a time, you usually deny the ability of potential hackers to hack the drone signal and control it.
Drone Hacking – Protection From The Hackers
Drones are vulnerable to hacking just like other computer-managed devices. The unique virtual communication methods provide hackers the back doors to steal, block, intercept or invade the privacy of the user. Hacking drones is not confined to consumer or commercial drones, but military drones have been a target of hackers. Also, keeping the firmware updated regularly will protect your drone from hackers.
To protect the drone from hackers, you can use antivirus programs that reduce the chances of the drone getting malware. On the other hand, subscribing to a VPN service encrypts the connection between the controller and the drone. Also, creating a strong password for base station apps keeps the hackers away from the drone. Strong passwords and updated firmware are hard to break and hackers are always looking for weak security drones.