Here Come the WiFi Drones

By the fall of 2015, nonmilitary unmanned aircraft (drones) are set to be flying in US airspace, and at least some will be equipped with WiFi and other communications equipment. This scenario could stir up new issues around security and privacy on terra firma.

Last week, the Federal Aviation Administration sent its plan for the "safe acceleration of the integration of civil UAS [unmanned aircraft systems] into the National Airspace System" (NAS) to several government transportation committees. The plan calls for commercial drones to be flying "not later than September 30, 2015" and earlier if possible.

The agency says drones could be used for anything from crime scene investigations to border patrol and search and rescue missions. The New York Police Department has already expressed interest in using unmanned aircraft as a surveillance tool. The FAA is also expecting drones to be used in agricultural applications.

At least 81 public organizations in the US have applied for special certification from the FAA to fly drones in domestic airspace, according to a list obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation . These include universities and local police and fire departments.

The FAA is defining -- and refining -- a plan for the safe integration of drones into US airspace. Operator training and collision sensors are seen as crucial, given the many types and sizes of drones expected to arrive in US airspace.

Such measures are important for flight safety. CNN reported this spring that a mysterious drone came within 200 feet of a commercial jetliner above John F. Kennedy Airport in New York. Drones could damage or down commercial aircraft by crashing into them or being sucked into a jet engine of the plane, depending on the unmanned craft's size.

The privacy issues around the use of drones are cloudier. The FAA states in the report:

    Although there is no Federal law that specifically addresses privacy concerns with respect to civil UAS operations, many states have laws that protect individuals from invasions of privacy which could be applied to intrusions committed by using a UAS.
    Integrating public and civil UAS into the NAS carries certain national security implications, including cyber and communications security, domestic framework for US government operations, national airspace and defense, airman vetting/general aviation, and privacy concerns. In coordination with the National Security Staff at the White House, the FAA is working in conjunction with relevant agency partners on an Interagency Policy Committee to address these issues.

This could lead to some interesting concerns about WiFi snooping and other communications surveillance using drones, particularly in the current climate. The burgeoning hobbyist industry for small drones has already shown how easy it is to install WiFi as a control mechanism on remote controlled aircraft. Hobbyist drones can already be flown in the US at 400 feet and below and within sight of the operator. Companies such as Parrot SA make WiFi-equipped quadricopters for drone fanciers.

Adam Conway, vice president of product management at Aerohive Networks Inc. , told us his company has already been experimenting with a WiFi access point in a drone. It flew a drone a few hundred feet above Sunnyvale, Calif., with a hotspot with a 4G module on board and got connected. Such temporary WiFi could obviously provide connectivity in disaster recovery situations and remote areas. However, there are many ways to use WiFi for snooping on other 802.11 users.

Brendan O'Connor, a law student at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and a researcher at the consulting firm Malice Afterthought, recently demonstrated the capabilities of CreepyDOL, a tiny and cheap WiFi sensor that can gather information about iPhone users as they walk around their neighborhood. Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) is battling a class action after it collected unencrypted WiFi data when its Google Maps cars took more than just snaps of areas around the world.

With ever-quieter drones being developed, it's possible to see how unmanned aircraft could be used as a surveillance and data collection tool in US airspace in the coming years. And it's hard to imagine that the topic of spying and snooping won't still be high on the public agenda come September 2015. (See: Another Day, Another Domestic Spying Revelation.)

— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading

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DanJones 12/31/2013 | 1:50:39 PM
Re: Here come the zombie wifi drones Today's latest snippet of news.


Security researcher Jacob Appelbaum says that the NSA can hack your WiFi from 8 miles away. In the future, they could even use a drone to do it, he suggests, although an unmarked van is probably more practical these days.


Source: http://www.theverge.com/2013/12/30/5256636/nsa-tailored-access-jacob-appelbaum-speech-30c3
DanJones 12/27/2013 | 4:28:45 PM
Re: Here come the zombie wifi drones Would be great for a hi-tech remake of Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds" though.
DanJones 12/27/2013 | 3:33:16 PM
Here come the zombie wifi drones This one seems a bit inevitable:

Programmer Sammy Kamar has written the SkyJack code which allows a drone to sniff out WiFi control signals from other hobbyist drones and allows them to take control of the craft.

"One AR Drone flier using Skyjack can steal and create an army of zombie drones, Kamkar says."

Source: www.newscientist.com/article/dn24726-drones-turned-into-zombies-using-an-easy-wifi-hack.html#.Ur3iZiekKSoc

Happy holidays!
DanJones 12/2/2013 | 10:07:48 AM
Now Amazon testing drones Here's their video:

DanJones 11/30/2013 | 9:52:56 PM
Forbes weighs in Interesting to notes.

"Drones" doesn't just mean flying robots, it can mean robots that bounce or scale walls. Wow, there's a lot more to all of this to grapple with, isn't there:

DanJones 11/29/2013 | 2:58:05 PM
Post-Bird Drone Update: Flying Eyes on Wine! Larger drones could carry payloads of pesticides or fertilizer, an application now being tested at vineyards in California's Napa Valley, according to agri-pub Capital Press


See: http://www.capitalpress.com/article/20131122/ARTICLE/131129962/1318

What if drones can make wine better?
DanJones 11/27/2013 | 2:28:29 PM
Latest unmanned snippet FAA expects 30,000 drones in US skies by 2020:


Meanwhile, the University of Connecticut is the only known non-military body currently licensed for drone use by the FAA.
DanJones 11/26/2013 | 12:20:36 PM
Today's two-sided drone links Drones to change how we respond to disasters:


But, Feds reportedly have little oversight on who is flying domestic drones now:


Glass=half empty/full.


Daniel Geery 11/25/2013 | 3:29:52 PM
Re: Pros of drones Thanks for the interesting link. Much appreciated.  DG
DanJones 11/25/2013 | 3:15:34 PM
Re: Pros of drones The BBC has been using drones in the Philipines and the UK for overhead reporting:


The NY Times reports that the FAA has said that journalists in the US can't operate like that. J-schools have to get a license for "drone journalism" programs. (Damn, I had just got used to video, now I need a drone?)
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