How do you protect critical infrastructure or sensitive areas from the spying eyes of a drone? With sensors and software rather than lasers and guns.
Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are becoming the eyes in the sky for farmers, oilrig workers, realtors and many others, enabling them to perform previously impossible tasks. But challenges are lurking in our drone-strewn future. Andrew Lacher, a UAV research strategist for the nonprofit organization MITRE explains:
Like any new technology that can be used for good, there are some people that deliberately will use them for bad. We have plenty of first-hand experiences of incidents, but we really don’t know how big the problem is.
As more drones occupy our airspace, potentially hazardous situations arise. A drone has landed on the White House lawn and there have been reports of UAVs being used for spying, stealing intellectual property and transporting drugs and other contraband. ISIS has reportedly started arming drones with small explosive devices.
How can we protect airports, nuclear plants and other sensitive areas from drones? That’s a question that Jörg Lamprecht ponders. He’s the CEO of Dedrone, a company that protects airspace against drones, including for the US presidential election debates and for Deutsche Telecom data centers.
People are becoming aware that drones can literally knock down your organization in 20 seconds. Five hundred dollar drones are disrupting a 400 billion dollar security market by transporting packages and information.
The first step in securing an area is detecting and tracking UAV intruders. Dedrone deploys a wide range of technologies, from ultrasonic sensors to radio frequency scanners, radar, WiFi and infrared sensors, to determine if an object is a bird, a helicopter or a drone. Since they are remotely controlled, the best way to track UAVs is by intercepting the radio signal between the operator and the drone. Security is then alerted and can take protective measures.
The Drone Hunter
Dubai’s deploying a drone hunter – Video by CNN Money
It’s possible to bring down a drone by jamming its radio signal or shooting it with a laser. In the Netherlands, authorities are even using a trained eagle. But current law in most countries prohibits doing so as drones are considered aircraft.
Drone activity shut down Dubai International Airport three times in 2016. This prompted authorities to test a “drone hunter” that detects unauthorized UAVs using thermal and infrared imaging (for more imaging cameras, visit DirectIndustry.com). It follows them to identify the operator, and police are alerted. For Lamprecht:
For the moment we tend to say, let’s watch the drone and ignore it. But the moment we have the first real bomb attack, that will change people’s perception.
Don’t Intercept, Geofence
The majority of hazardous situations aren’t caused by hardcore terrorists or spies, but by civilians who unknowingly fly their drones into restricted airspace. Those are the people that AirMap is trying to rein in.
Airmap is like Google Maps for airspace below 500 feet. Using a smartphone app, Airmap allows drone operators to see where they can and can’t fly, and get real-time traffic alerts if a manned aircraft gets too close. Airports or other organizations also can use AirMap geofencing technology to create virtual perimeters and prevent drone operators from violating their airspace.
Jared Ablon, chief information security officer at Airmap, explains:
Ninety percent of the problems caused by drones could be solved with geofencing because most people are not trying to do anything bad. They’re just unaware.
He believes that rather than finding ways to take down rogue drones, the industry should develop transponders and certificates to identify trusted UAVs.
Once you can identify a drone, you have accountability. That stops a lot of people.
Just the Beginning
Drone technology is still in its infancy, much like the early days of the internet when no one had heard of antivirus software. In the future, there will be an increasing demand for secure areas. For Andrew Lacher:
If this were a football game, we’d only be in the first minute. It’s hard to predict what will happen in the 90th minute because as the technology matures, we have to match the threat. The need is not going to go away.