Estimated reading time: 12 minutes
Drones are some of the best gadgets one can have. Its applications are endless, from traffic control, pipeline monitoring, filming, to surveillance. However, there have been several cyber-attacks involving drones. So, this raises the question,
Can You Hack a Drone?
Yes, It’s possible to hack a drone. Drones work like computers and smartphones, which you can hack through wireless connections such as Wi-Fi. You also don’t need to be that experienced. There are software designed to hack into drones.
Please keep reading to find out how drone hacking works and how to protect your drones. We have also suggested some drones to those who’d like to try hacking.
Table of Contents
- Can You Hack a Drone?
- How to Hack a Drone?
- What Methods Hacker Used to Hack Drones?
- Is hacking a Military Drone conceivable?
- What Is the Role of Cyber-security In Drone Technology?
- What Are the Real Dangers of Hacked Drones?
- How to Prevent Drones From Being Hacked?
- What Are the Best 5 Drones For Hacking?
How to Hack a Drone?
You can hack a drone in several ways. The most common method is through the drones’ communication systems or the controlling device. Be it your computer or smartphone.
Drones have four main communication channels. These include;
- GPS positioning for flight control. They also log the home position to fly themselves back to that point in case of any issues.
- Wi-Fi’s connection for relaying data to and from the ground station
- Bluetooth for sending and receiving information
- Long wave frequency for sending and receiving data at long range
It’s also effortless to locate a drone that’s at least one mile away by scanning for radio frequencies.
In most consumer drones, these connections are often unencrypted. Therefore, it’s possible to intercept the down link (communication of the drone to the base station). When you manage to do this, you can spy on the user’s videos, photographs, or other activities they are carrying out with the drones.
The FTP facilitates the receiving and saving of photos and videos from the drone.
The Telnet, on the other hand, gives access to the drone’s root shell.
What Methods Hacker Used to Hack Drones?
FTP and root are typically not password protected. So, as long as the attacker has access to these servers, they can control the drone.
One of the most common ways is to restart the drone midair and crashing the drone. Doing this makes it easier to steal or place malware to prep it for more cybersecurity attacks.
GPS spoofing is another way drones get hacked. Once you have access to the drones command centers, you can easily feed the wrong coordinates.
As a result, the drone will think it is close to home while you’re directing it to your coordinates.
Common malware such as Maldrone can also attack your computer or smartphone. It can then be used to hack a drone through the internet.
Once they hack into the drone, you can wipe the drone’s data, spy on the drone users, or even steal information.
There are even drones designed to hack into other drones and control them. One of the most commons is Skyjack drones, which can hunt down other drones and control them.
The source code of this tech is also readily available, and it can be tweaked to serve various applications.
Is hacking a Military Drone conceivable?
Drones provide a cheaper and more convenient surveillance method for the military. They are easier to manage than satellites. Unfortunately, military drones are susceptible to hacking.
Despite cybersecurity experts improving the drones to resist cyber-attacks, hackers always find a way to bypass that. Military drones function similarly to commercial drones.
So, hackers can alter the GPS coordinates of military drones and monitor on their surveillance or even launch malware on their controlling devices.
A famous drone hack took place in Iran in 2011. Iranians intercepted the US Military drone’s GPS coordinates and made the drone land in hostile territory. Having captured the drone, they could reverse its tech for their drones.
Stealing a drone isn’t the only risk. Military drones have a higher stake since enemy countries can tap into the country’s military intelligence.
Tutorials and ready-made software for hacking military drones and other commercial drones are readily available. You don’t even have to be that tech-savvy.
Plans are underway to design drones with a new programming language that isn’t prone to hacking. But since drones use wireless communications, which are easy to hack, we are a long way from having drones that can resist hacking.
What Is the Role of Cyber-security In Drone Technology?
As I mentioned earlier, drones are “flying computers.” They combine networking processes, computation, embedded computation systems (ECS), Ground Controlled Systems (GCS), autopilot, and propulsion systems.
Since they rely on virtual computation, cyber-security is essential to protect these processes from outside attacks. Just like an attacker may attack your computer and steal your files, monitor your activities, or block you from using it, the same activities can happen on your drone.
Another reason why cyber-security is essential is the drone’s application. For instance, we mentioned that military drones have a lot of information that they wouldn’t want to fall into the wrong hands.
Various regulations are being rolled to enhance the cyber-security of drones. One of these initiatives is e-identification. This feature ensures that drones can relay the pilot’s identification information when required. It can help identify the proprietor of an attack.
There is also software to protect the drone from theft. These software programs rely on biometrics such as facial recognition to prevent an attacker from accessing the drone if they manage to steal it.
They can also help encrypt the drones’ information to wade off hackers.
What Are the Real Dangers of Hacked Drones?
Most tests on drones’ vulnerability have been done to improve the drone’s security. But there’s a real danger in hacked drones.
There’s no telling what the hacker can do with the drone once they gain control. Theft is one case. We did mention how Iranian hackers stole a military drone.
They can also crash the drones, which is a loss to the owner.
For instance, students at Johns Hopkins’ Whiting School of Engineering conducted two tests of hacking a drone.
In one test, they sent several wireless connections, and in the second test, they sent a data packet that exceeded the drone’s limit.
In both cases, they crashed the drones. This method can be used to crash drones into vehicles, buildings, other drones, and aircraft.
Criminals can use drones to gather photos and other info when planning attacks.
Even though some areas are marked as “no-drone” zones, such as airports and military bases, it’s still possible to bypass these security mechanisms with cheap software.
They can even alter the signals the drone is sending and change flight data.
By hacking a drone, the attackers can also access to your wireless network. This attack compromises your home and risks your business operations if you’re using your drone close to your business premises.
How to Prevent Drones From Being Hacked?
With the demand for consumer drones rising, some manufacturers compromise the quality of their security to maximize production. They do this because consumer drones are often not targets for hacking.
But it doesn’t hurt to be more cautious. So, it’s up to you, the user, to enforce measures that can prevent your drone from being hacked. Below are some of the best ways you can do this.
Establish a secure connection:
Even though some drones come with special controlling pads, similar to gaming pads, most are controlled through personal devices.
So, you have to make sure you protect your smartphone and PC from malware.
You can do this by installing an antivirus. Free antivirus software such as Avast can go a long way in protecting your device, but it would help if you installed trusted software like Kaspersky and Nord.
For an extra layer of security, you can install a VPN (Virtual Private Network). I mentioned that some malware are designed to hack the drone through the internet.
So with a VPN, you’re encrypting your internet to prevent the hacker from accessing it. Some good examples of VPNs include NordVPN, Express VPN, and TunnelBear.
Encrypt the drone’s communication channels:
For a long time, most drones have had unencrypted Wi-Fi and radio frequency communications. Some still do. This enables hackers to eavesdrop in the drone’s activities easily. But nowadays, manufacturers are encrypting the drones before releasing them.
If yours is not encrypted, you can also encrypt it with third-party software. Software like DroneConnect from Thales Group also provides encryption on sensitive data and remote identification.
You can also invest in software such as seL4 kernel. This software locks some parts of the drone. If the hacker manages to hack into it, they may still not access sensitive information thanks to this software.
Yeah, you read that right. Blockchain can help secure your drone from hacking. Blocking stores information in a decentralized ledger, and one can’t access the information unless they have the unique key.
The validation process is very rigorous and minimizes the chances of hacking. IBM has such a technology that uses Blockchain to conceal information such as flight patterns, location information, weather conditions, and accessories’ features attached to the drone.
Switch your flying pattern:
It is possible to detect a drone that’s at least a mile away. Therefore, if you fly your drone in the same area for a long time, you’re exposing yourself to potential attacks. Change your flying pattern often to make sure you’re not an easy target.
It is also advisable to fly a drone in areas with a few obstacles like trees and buildings. This way, your drone will be in your view all the time. You will also be able to act immediately things go wrong.
Choose the right drone:
You need to select your drone carefully. Just because its cheap does not mean you can buy it.
You need to check the security measures installed in the drone, and its compatibility with third-party security software.
Customer reviews can also help you avoid drones that are easily hacked. You will have yourself to blame if you purchase any drone without doing your due diligence.
What Are the Best 5 Drones For Hacking?
Let’s face it. Not every hacker is coldhearted. Not every hacker intends to do anything malicious.
You can do it for fun or test the vulnerability of other drones to improve them.
If you’re looking for the best drones for hacking, below are some recommendations.
Parrot Drone AR 2.0:
This is one of the most popular drones for both regular use and hacking. This is the drone used in Nodecopter.js, where developers receive this drone and get a day to tweak it to their liking.
It’s compatible with skyjack, the “drone hunting” software, and other hacking software. And it’s very affordable too, costing less than $300.
DJI Phantom 2:
This drone is a bit expensive compared to the Parrot model, but it’s one of the best hacking platforms on drones. It can also carry a heavier payload, and the manufacturer includes an android phone and Wi-Fi pineapple.
Besides the high price, you also can’t control this drone from another device.
This is more than a hacking drone. It’s one of the most powerful drones with a 400 grams payload capacity and the ability to mount a GoPro. So, you don’t have to purchase a gimbal for it.
The nix-like programming platform allows you to customize it for your functions. The only issue you’ll have is attaching a mini-computer or other accessories since it seems more suitable for filming.
If you’re learning how to build drones, you can take on this DIY project. You can customize it for hacking, filming, or any other activities.
The good thing about building it from scratch is that you’ll determine its processer power, flight design, and even compatibility with other hacking software.
Yuneec Typhoon H:(My Choice)
This is another customizable design that’s popular among hackers. Better yet, two people can use it simultaneously. One can control the flight while the other user controls other aspects.
Yuneec Typhoon H is the most expensive of all the drones we’ve reviewed, but features like the retractable gears, two-user capability, and HD display remote make it worth every penny.
Drones are prone to hacking just like any computer-run device. Their unique virtual communication methods provide backdoors for hackers to intercept them and crash them, steal them, or even invade the user’s privacy. Even military drones have suffered hacking over the years.
Installing Antivirus, VPNs, and other encryption software are the best ways to protect your drones from hacking. They may not always be foolproof, but they are better than leaving your drone exposed.
On the other hand, if you’d like to try drone hacking as part of your skills development, you can do that too.
The Parrot Drone AR 2.0 would be a good one to start with since it’s known for affordability, compatibility, and it’s easier to customize.