While there has been much debate over police department drones and individual privacy, now, a new concern has emerged: the threat of hackers. Recently, a security researcher, Nils Rodday, used a laptop and $40 worth of equipment to hack into a drone worth approximately $30,000. The drone Rodday specifically targeted was a police department drone, which he intercepted using its Wi-Fi connection and sending it new commands. In addition to Rodday’s drone-hacking experiment, the University of Texas has also conducted hacking tests; as early as 2012, engineering professor Todd Humphreys demonstrated that drone GPS signals can be “spoofed,” which allows hackers to remotely take them over.
While it might seem like police departments could spend enough on a drone in order to equip it with proper security protections from hackers, most police departments are buying drones that aren’t nearly as secure as the drones operated by the U.S. military. And for most police departments and government agencies, in-house drone security experts are hard to retain (or pay). If police departments contract this work out, finding bugs and security holes may be difficult because the hacker community may not want to share their findings with law enforcement. One suggestion has been to create a program similar to “Hack the Pentagon,” where police departments will pay bounties to hackers who find vulnerabilities in the systems. However, one central command center may be a better, more cost-effective approach for police departments. And at the very least, police departments and other governmental agencies utilizing drones should be using encrypted communications to increase security at the base. Keep this in mind if you are considering using drones to capture data that may be confidential or proprietary.