Drones and security have an interesting relationship. Drones can be used to assist in physical security, such as providing aerial video footage, and in national security efforts. But drones have been a threat to security, as well. For instance, a drone crashed into a plane at Heathrow Airport recently; in response, London put a security restriction on drones during President Obama’s visit to the United Kingdom. Finally, drones themselves can be vulnerable to security threats like malware.
Small Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) – a.k.a. drones -- are first and foremost data collection platforms, Richard M. Lusk, director, UAS Research Center at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, explained.
“The unique capabilities offered for sensing and monitoring our environment and extending our awareness of the world around us can be leveraged to great effect for the betterment of humankind,” Lusk continued. “Small UAS can be used for agricultural, infrastructure and environmental monitoring, and response and recovery in times of disaster. We haven't fully integrated the technologies to make all these things possible, yet. But we are working on it.”
However, he added, as with all new technology, there will be those who want to use it for nefarious ends, and that’s where the concern about security risks comes in. Right now, the biggest security risk is to the general public.
“You have mostly untrained novice ‘pilots’ flying vehicles that have cameras and high-speed moving parts,” said Ryan Jones, partner at Coalfire Labs. “There is obvious risk of personal injury if one crashes into a crowd or otherwise hits a person from the moving blades that keep it aloft or from just the pure physical design and weight of an object falling out of the sky.”
Concern is also rising about drone operators who are heavily modifying their drones into weapons to carry everything from handguns to rifles to chainsaws. These modifications, Jones pointed out, introduce a whole new level of risk, as you now have a privately owned “weaponized” drone.
Next comes the privacy issue. The Columbia Journalism Review asked a pointed question: Just because drones have the ability to photograph anything, should they be able to do so? The answer is no, we need respect for privacy:
Next page: Tackling Drone Vulnerabilities