Wondering can a drone be hacked and controlled? Here’s everything you need to know!
Although it might seem quite unfamiliar to you, the drones that you utilize for multiple applications are prone to cybersecurity threats and cyber attacks. Read this article carefully to learn about the threats and ways to counter them.
Understanding the ways in which your drone can encounter cybersecurity threats and can also be prone to malwares used by hackers and scammers can help you set up secure defense systems and install appropriate protections.
This article covers every relevant detail regarding a drone being hacked and controlled and how to neutralize those threats.
Can A Drone Be Hacked And Controlled?
Drones are a marvelous human invention and are expanding their popularity in the internet of things (IoT) sector – such as aerial survey, collection and recording online data, surveillance in addition to the age-old application in the field of military.
The functioning of drones is similar to the computer. It consists of an operating system, hardware, and network connections relying on wireless communication. Hence, they are highly susceptible to data breaches and cybercrimes.
It can come as a surprise that drones are prone to cyber-attacks. But it has a simple analogy as a computer. Once the data is transmitted, it can be hacked by injecting malware and manipulating the drone coordinates. Worst yet, there is a probability of losing the drone.
However, your private drones are less likely to catch the eye of hackers since you do not harbor sensitive data of national importance. But it is advisable to know in and out of the way it operates and be mindful of the possible danger.
This article will answer all the queries about the hacking of drones and the different methods to protect from cyber-attacks.
How Vulnerable Is Your Drone To Hacking?
Drones are popularly known as flying computers since both have similar features. So, let’s start with understanding the working of the drones. Drones operate like aircraft, and they move using a controller system. The controller can be a mobile, gaming pad, or any gadget which has Wifi connectivity. The information is relayed from the remote control to the drone using wireless communication.
But, the trouble begins here. Most commercial drones do not have a secure communication system. Hence, drones are as vulnerable as a computer to hacking.
Hence, the data can be easily intercepted, and your drone can land in the wrong hands. The result is intimidating. The hacker can control the drone and spy on the images and videos you are documenting, thereby stealing valuable and private information.
Common Methods Used For Drone Hacking
2011 was a year that astonished the entire world when Iran spied on the U.S military drone and hijacked it to another location. There are many ways a drone can be hacked and controlled. Some of the most common ones are the following:
Malware Injection In Your Drone
Most drones use a computer as the control system. So hackers use many devious pathways to take charge of the drone. The convenient way is to inject malware like Maldrone into the computer system. It is the gateway to your system since it can sever the connection between you and the drone.
The hacker can install their software and control the coordinates to deviate the drone’s path. At this stage, the drone can search any unencrypted signal available to match the frequency and land in a hostile location.
How does the hacker get hold of the drone? Often they do it by crashing the drone or by restarting it. The drone cannot differentiate between the original and the hacked software, and hence it moves according to the new brief.
Hijacking Communication Channels On Your Drone
Another main channel for hacking is the communication system via GPS, radiofrequency, Wifi connection, and Bluetooth. Since drones have wide applications in many internet applications such as live streaming, more and more cyber thefts have been reported in recent days.
Usually, you can detect the drone at least from a mile away by scanning for radiofrequency.
The servers of drones do not have a secure password, and hence the hackers can control the drones until they have control over servers.
GPS Spoofing The Drone
It is a way to mislead the drone to another location. In this method, a radio transmitter can send a fake signal to the target receiver and feed wrong coordinates to the drone. Unfortunately, the drone perceives this as a valid signal and takes this new trajectory. There are many instances internationally where GPS spoofing has come to the limelight for political gains.
Hacking By Using Another Drone
There are specially designed drones that can hack other drones. The most common drones of this type are Skyjack drones that use Wifi connections in the vicinity to hack and control other drones.
How To Protect Your Drone From Being Hacked
At the moment, you have understood the different ways a drone can be controlled and hacked by anybody. It is technically not difficult to hack or control a drone because of the unencrypted communication network. Many high-end drones have known quality specifications but overlook the security aspect.
Hence cyber-security is the need of the hour. Various companies are mulling over designing programming languages to secure drones from hacking and theft. Here are a few things you can follow to safeguard your drone from misuse.
Use a strong Antivirus program on cell phones and tablets.
Many prefer to use cell phones or tablets to fly the drone. If your phone is not secured, it is convenient to With a single malware, your drone is more vulnerable to leaking sensitive data your drone might be carrying. Hence it is essential to secure it with an antivirus. There is a default antivirus on a computer and not on cell phones, so you must install the best antivirus to be free from malware.
Install a Virtual Private Network (VPN)
While an antivirus safeguards your PC, it is not sufficient. The malicious malware can be injected via the internet, and hence you need a secure network.
A VPN provides a protected channel to use the internet since it encrypts the connection keeping your internet usage private.
Sometimes by using cheap software, one can intercept the drone’s communication channel and take control of the drones. They can even land the drones in restricted areas.
To ensure double safety, you can install specific software available such as DroneConnect, to encrypt the data and keep your identity anonymous.
Change The Flight Pattern On Your Drone
Flying a drone is similar to creating a digital footprint in the air. So it is possible to track the drone from a mile away if it is flying at a particular location for a longer time. To protect the drone from eavesdropping on the data, you can change the flying pattern frequently. You can change the area from time to time so that your drone is no longer in the same zone for a potential hacker to intercept it. Keep track of the drone when flying because a drone out of your sight can encounter danger and land in the wrong hands.
Fly Your Drone In Remote Areas
One way of securing your drones from hackers is by flying in unknown and remote areas where there is a lack of technology. The main criterion to take charge of the drone is proximity. When the drones are out of the vicinity, it becomes difficult to control or hack them. Hence, fly your drones in remote locations, especially when the drones are carrying sensitive information.
Buy Drones After Careful Scrutiny
Choosing the appropriate drones is also very crucial to safeguard from hacking. Despite taking measures for preventing hacking, if your drone has a weak security system and less compatibility, all your hard work goes futile.
Look out for the return-to-home feature in the drones. It is a lasting resort to most of the problems. If your drone gets jammed or hacked, you can use the RTH function to bring it back to the home location. But GPS spoofing is not restricted with RTH since it relies on GPS connectivity. But take a wise decision by doing thorough research while choosing a secure drone.
Drones have become man-friendly aerial vehicles but they are as susceptible to hacking as a computer. The hackers can intercept the wireless communication and replace it with their software to deceive the drones and deviate to the wrong coordinates.
Although your private drones are not a high target, you must secure your drone from unethical hacking. Having encrypted communication and control systems in the drones can take the burden off your shoulders.
There are methods to track malicious drones using radars and acoustic sensors, but why take a chance when you can prevent it? Hence take all the precautions to be safe from the hacking of drones.
1. Is it difficult to hack a drone?
No, it is not difficult to hack a drone. It is similar to hacking a computer. Usually, to hack a drone, you must disrupt the communication between the controller system and the drone. Since most drones come with an unsecured communication system, it is easy to reach the back gate to the drone and steal valuable data.
2. Is it possible for someone else to take control of your drone?
It is a hard truth that someone else can take control of your drone by injecting malware and replacing their software. After this, you lose control of the drone, and the hacker can change the drone’s direction. Worst yet, you can lose your drone.
3. Is it true that military drones can get hacked?
Yes, military drones are indeed susceptible to hacking. There is an alleged report that the Iran government snooped on the U.S military drone in 2011 and landed the drone on hostile land.
Jon is a passionate photographer and videographer who has been flying DJI drones for over 5 years. He loves the freedom and creativity that comes with capturing aerial footage and the unique perspective it provides. Jon is always on the lookout for new locations to explore and capture with his DJI drones. His favorite DJI drone is the Mavic 2 Pro, which he uses to capture stunning 4K footage with its Hasselblad camera. Jon is always eager to share his knowledge and experience with other drone enthusiasts and is a member of several online drone communities. When he’s not flying his DJI drone, Jon enjoys hiking, camping, and spending time with his family.