If you hear a faint buzzing sound in the sky, it’s increasingly likely that the culprit is a drone; more than 180,000 people have registered their unmanned aircraft with the FAA so far. But some people are concerned that the popularity of drones is outpacing manufacturers’ and regulators’ ability to ensure they’re safe and regulated.
What could go wrong, you might ask? Researchers at Johns Hopkins are exploring that very question, looking into how easy it would be to hack a drone and instruct it to ignore its human controller–and it turns out, it’s a frighteningly simple thing to do. And it’s one thing when the hacked drone belongs to a hobbyist–but it’s quite another when hackers start looking into the vulnerabilities of, say, police drones.
Hopkins grad students actually found three different ways to use a laptop to co-opt a drone’s controls and send it crashing to the ground. The Hopkins researchers point out that in the rush to get drones to market, manufacturers may be cutting corners on security measures. “You see it with a lot of new technology,” the university’s Lanier A. Watkins told the Hopkins Hub. “Security is often an afterthought. The value of our work is in showing that the technology in these drones is highly vulnerable to hackers.” The grad students sent their findings about security vulnerabilities to the drone manufacturers; according to the Hub, they haven’t heard back yet.
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