Headline Roundup: The downside of drones

HEADLINE ROUNDUP — With drone use on the rise, public safety is as risk according to multiple news reports. Curious how drones could be affecting public safety, personal privacy, and even illegal prison deliveries?

Here are a few recent stories from around the web:

drone-flyby.jpg

U.S. geospatial data could flow to China via drones

(https://fcw.com/articles/2019/06/19/drone-senate-china-data.aspx)

“Experts and public officials warned lawmakers at a Senate hearing of the security risks arising from China’s increasing dominance in low-cost unmanned aerial vehicles.

Harry Wingo of National Defense University told the Transportation Subcommittee of the Senate Commerce Committee that the Chinese company DJI has a “near monopoly” on drone technology marketed in the U.S. That technology isn’t just in the gears and rotors, but also in the image collection and storage systems that take photographs and retain data.

“American geospatial information is flown to Chinese data centers at an unprecedented level. This literally gives a Chinese company a view from above of our nation,” Wingo said at the June 18 hearing. “DJI says that American data is safe, but its use of proprietary software networks means how would we know.”

Wingo noted that the Department of Defense has banned the use of DJI drones and expressed concern that U.S. public safety organizations including police in New York City have adopted the Chinese-made tech. “When you consider protecting a U.S. city at that level, to hand that information over is concerning,” he said.

In December 2017, an intelligence memo from Immigrations and Customs Enforcement alleged that images of U.S. critical infrastructure facilities were being gathered and possibly sent to Chinese government data centers by drones.

A spokesperson for DJI North America strongly disputed the notion that its drones were communicating with outside sources without the knowledge of the operators.

“As a privately-held global technology company, DJI gives customers full and complete control over how their data is collected, stored, and transmitted. DJI drones do not share any data with DJI, over the internet, or in any other manner unless the operator deliberately chooses to do so,” said company spokesperson Adam Lisberg in an email. “The security of our technology has been independently verified by the U.S. government, and our products meet all of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s data management recommendations.”

Catherine Cahill, director of the Alaska Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration, noted in her testimony that closed software and storage systems for foreign-made drones are a concern.

“We are working to address foreign systems by using open source autopilots instead of the foreign made systems coming with them,” she said. Cahill also warned that drone technology being developed in the U.S. is threatened by industrial espionage from foreign competitors.

Cahill said the U.S. must be careful in the rush to develop both drones and anti-drone technologies. Some technologies being developed in U.S. research centers could be vulnerable. For instance, she said some forward-looking infrared cameras used in academic research laboratories or in remote sensing classes at her facility are controlled under International Traffic in Arms Regulations.

“We do see approaches from Iran, Russia, Pakistan. They want to come and learn” about the center’s work and test site. “They assume we’re an easier target than the Defense Department.”

Additionally, Cahill and Angela Stubblefield, deputy associate administrator at the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Security and Hazardous Materials, told lawmakers that Congress should consider authorizing counter-UAS technology testing, currently forbidden under law except for a narrow exemption granted to the Departments of Defense, Energy and Homeland Security.

Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), the chairman of the Transportation Subcommittee, said a possible change to the law that might allow for anti-drone technology testing by nongovernmental entities in the wide, unpopulated expanses of his home state might be worth considering.”

Drone Use on the Rise, Public Safety at Risk

(https://www.infosecurity-magazine.com/news/drone-use-rise-public-safety-risk/)

“Cybersecurity research firm IOActive has issued a stark warning about the potential, unseen risks surrounding the commercialization of drones – calling for manufacturers to take action.

In July 2018, analysts at Technavio predicted that the commercial drone market would grow by 36% (generating $11.61bn) between 2018 and 2022, but with that growth, IOActive has raised concerns about a range of new risks that could follow.

IOActive claimed that if the commercial market for drones is left unchecked, then we could start to see drones being weaponized, presenting potential hazards and threatening the safety of the public.

As drones become more commercially accessible and their functionality improves, they will also become more affordable, but what so often fails to keep pace when new tech such as this grows in popularity are in-built security features that keep it safe from malicious interference.

IOActive pointed to some key drone security risks that could arise as a result, including how malicious actors could program drones to fly to specific GPS coordinates to launch cyber-attacks on Wi-Fi networks (or other types of wireless networks), or even perform man-in-the-middle attacks and disseminate malware.

What’s more, there is also the real risk of disruption – seen recently in the chaos caused by drone sightings at Gatwick airport – and injury, with the potential for hacked drones to be used to ‘dive-bomb’ pedestrians or impact traffic intersections, IOActive explained. Then there’s the privacy issues, IOActive added, highlighting that drones have the capability to take photos and record audio and video in otherwise impossible to reach areas.

“With enough determination anything can be hacked, but the commercialization of the drone market is making it all too easy – and many of the consequences for security, safety and privacy have simply not been thought through,” said Cesar Cerrudo, CTO at IOActive.

“The range of drones is of particular concern as it opens up new areas of vulnerability that many will not have considered.”

Cerrudo urged manufacturers to shoulder their share of the responsibility for the products they are bringing to market to ensure they are as secure as possible.

“The relative speed at which these devices are taking to the sky raises several issues. While the use of drones within the military has been common for many years, those drones have been rigorously tested and built with security in mind – commercial manufacturers do not have the same concerns, they are more focused on getting their product to market than ensuring cybersecurity. This attitude needs to change.”

The Downside of Drones

(https://gcn.com/articles/2019/06/20/drone-security-dangers.aspx)

“Senate lawmakers heard from experts and public officials who warned of the security risks related to low-cost drones.

Harold Shaw, chief security officer for the Massachusetts Port Authority, told the Transportation Subcommittee of the Senate Commerce Committee about the dangers unmanned aerial systems pose at airports and public venues, and asked the committee to empower state and local public safety partners “to take charge of their own safety.”

Currently, Shaw said at the June 18 hearing, local officials have neither the authority nor technology to respond to a drone incident.  He advocated an integrated system that allows both air traffickers and law enforcement to effectively identify drones and a way to mitigate drones that pose threats.

Four federal agencies — the Departments of Defense, Energy, Homeland Security and Justice — have authority to disrupt, destroy or damage a drone, according to Angela Stubblefield, deputy associate administrator at the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Security and Hazardous Materials. She acknowledged the need for “a robust security framework to support and enable full UAS integration” that includes working with local authorities to mitigate rogue drones, but, she said, “it’s challenging to consider the ability of state and local law enforcement to be able to do that without potentially creating even greater safety impacts while they’re trying to address a security risk.”

The security risk from drones also extends to their technologies and the nation’s relationship with foreign countries.

Harry Wingo of National Defense University told the committee that Chinese UAS manufacturer DJI has a “near monopoly” on drone technology marketed in the U.S. That technology isn’t just in the gears and rotors, but also in the image collection and storage systems that take photographs and retain data.

“American geospatial information is flown to Chinese data centers at an unprecedented level. This literally gives a Chinese company a view from above of our nation,” Wingo said. “DJI says that American data is safe, but its use of proprietary software networks means how would we know.”

Wingo noted that the Department of Defense has banned the use of DJI drones and expressed concern that U.S. public safety organizations including police in New York City have adopted the Chinese-made tech. “When you consider protecting a U.S. city at that level, to hand that information over is concerning,” he said.

In December 2017, an intelligence memo from Immigrations and Customs Enforcement alleged that images of U.S. critical infrastructure facilities were being gathered and possibly sent to Chinese government data centers by drones.

A spokesperson for DJI North America strongly disputed the notion that its drones were communicating with outside sources without the knowledge of the operators.

“As a privately-held global technology company, DJI gives customers full and complete control over how their data is collected, stored, and transmitted. DJI drones do not share any data with DJI, over the internet, or in any other manner unless the operator deliberately chooses to do so,” said company spokesperson Adam Lisberg in an email. “The security of our technology has been independently verified by the U.S. government, and our products meet all of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s data management recommendations.”

Catherine Cahill, director of the Alaska Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration, noted in her testimony that closed software and storage systems for foreign-made drones are a concern.

“We are working to address foreign systems by using open source autopilots instead of the foreign made systems coming with them,” she said. Cahill also warned that drone technology being developed in the U.S. is threatened by industrial espionage from foreign competitors.

Cahill said the U.S. must be careful in the rush to develop both drones and anti-drone technologies. Some technologies being developed in U.S. research centers could be vulnerable. For instance, she said some forward-looking infrared cameras used in academic research laboratories or in remote sensing classes at her facility are controlled under International Traffic in Arms Regulations.

“We do see approaches from Iran, Russia, Pakistan. They want to come and learn” about the center’s work and test site, she said. “They assume we’re an easier target than the Defense Department.”

Additionally, Cahill and Stubblefield told lawmakers that Congress should consider authorizing counter-UAS technology testing, currently forbidden under law except for a narrow exemption granted to the four agencies.

Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), the chairman of the Transportation Subcommittee, said a possible change to the law that might allow for anti-drone technology testing by nongovernmental entities in the wide, unpopulated expanses of his home state might be worth considering.”

An App for Stopping Drone Deliveries over Prison Walls

(https://pratt.duke.edu/about/news/prison-drones)

“Engineers at Duke University are teaming up with the North Carolina Department of Public Safety to address a growing concern for correctional facilities worldwide—drones delivering contraband over prison walls.

While companies like Amazon and Google are just beginning to test drone delivery services worldwide, criminals have already been receiving packages through the air for years. Seven members of a gang were convicted in 2018 of airlifting £500,000 worth of drugs into UK prisons. In 2017, a prisoner in South Carolina broke out of a maximum-security prison using wire cutters delivered through the use of a drone.

Many of the larger prison facilities in North Carolina have found themselves caught up in the trend. Scotland Correctional Institution near Laurinburg, for example, has experienced several attempts to smuggle in contraband such as cell phones and tobacco through the use of drones. While commercial anti-drone systems do exist, they are too expensive to roll out on a state-wide basis or a state-level budget.

“It’s been sporadic for our facilities, but obviously even a single incident is too many for us,” said Loris Sutton, chief of security for the North Carolina state prison system. “I heard that Professor Cummings would be a great resource to try to combat this problem, so I reached out to her to see if she’d be willing to work with us. And of course she was more than willing.”

Mary “Missy” Cummings, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Duke, is one of the nation’s leading experts in autonomous vehicles. As one of the Navy’s first female fighter pilots and a doctorate in human-computer system interaction, flying drones are her specialty.

But it was Cummings’s work with the Town of Cary and Sarah P. Duke Gardens that really caught Sutton’s attention. In 2017, Cummings received a National Science Foundation grant in partnership with landscape architects at Clemson University to develop an affordable and aesthetic system for deterring unwanted drones.

Working together with her team of students, Cummings has been developing an alerting system that uses microphones and thermal cameras to detect unwanted drones and the people flying them. Their colleagues at Clemson, meanwhile, built a synthetic “bird’s nest” the size of a hawk’s nest to camouflage the associated equipment.

The team will be beta testing the system with the Town of Cary later this summer, and eventually with Duke Gardens. If the initial results are promising, Sutton hopes the emerging system might be able to extend to monitoring the walls of North Carolina’s prisons.

It likely could.

Chunge Wang, a Duke undergraduate student majoring in computer science, created a new app interface for the equipment that is tailored to the needs of prisons, dubbed Prison Reconnaissance Information System (PRIS). In its current form, the hardware consists of a microphone connected to a Raspberry Pi—a simple, inexpensive computer board originally developed to teach basic programming—a data server and a smart phone, costing less than $1,000 total.

The Raspberry Pi is loaded with a machine learning algorithm that constantly processes the data collected from the microphone to isolate the sounds a drone makes from background noise. When it detects the buzzing whir of a drone’s propellers, it sends a notification to an app loaded on smart phones carried by the prison’s security personnel.

“The app displays the information in a visually dynamic way in real-time, using different symbols overlaid on a map view of the prison,” explained Wang. “The goal is for the users to be able to quickly understand where and how far away the potential threat is, how confident the system is that it’s actually a drone, and what’s most likely to happen next.”

Eager to test PRIS out in a real-world environment, Cummings, Wang and their team recently visited one of North Carolina’s more remote prison facilities, Dan River Prison Work Farm in Caswell County. The group spent several hours collecting data and actually seeing how well the system was able to collect data and display it through the app.

“We’re still trying to figure out some problems with false alarms caused by helicopters and weed eaters, both of which show up at prisons from time to time,” said Cummings. “But when we tested at a local airport, we were excited to see that we could filter out flying airplanes. We did have some trouble with airplanes that were taxiing, but you’re not very likely to run into those at a prison.”

The researchers were also able to get the app in the hands of security personnel to get their feedback on the user interface. Other than a few suggestions about additional features, the reviews have been universally positive.

“I think the work the team has done so far has been terrific,” said Sutton. “I’m excited about the possible outcomes of the project and look forward to the day that they can produce a finished product for us.”

The Duke researchers are excited too. Wang is presenting his research this month at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) AVIATION Forum, the premier aviation conference in the nation. After a summer of testing, if the technology performs well, the team will look into commercializing it.

“This low-cost, easy-to-use technology has the potential to put early warning drone detection capability into the hands of managers of small public venues and prison wardens, which substantially benefits public safety,” said Cummings. “This project demonstrates what can be achieved through excellence in research and engineering, as well as strong partnerships with a local community that has pressing needs.”

This work is supported by the National Science Foundation and the North Carolina Department of Public Safety.”

 

The Next Big Privacy Concern Is Up in the Air

(https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-next-big-privacy-concern-is-up-in-the-air-11561042733)

“Michele Dunn, a 53-year-old lobbyist in Atlanta, stepped out of the shower, wrapped herself in a towel, and wandered into her bedroom while drying her hair before work. Because she lives on the third-floor of a downtown high-rise with highly reflective windows, she only pulls the curtains at night. Then she heard a strange noise.

“That’s when I saw the drone. It was so close, you could see the camera moving,” said Ms. Dunn. “I screamed bloody murder.” Ms. Dunn’s husband, Wesley Dunn, a 67-year-old attorney and former house member of the Georgia General Assembly, came running and yanked open the window.

The hovering drone buzzed away immediately, but its appearance had lasting consequences, Ms. Dunn said. Since the incident last March, she has never again stepped into her bedroom in just a towel. As she does her makeup in the morning, she finds herself scanning the skyline.

“I am much more careful now,” said Ms. Dunn. The drone “changes everything.”

Drones—or unmanned aerial vehicles—burst into American leisure and commerce in 2016 when the Federal Aviation Administration simplified the process for becoming a legal drone operator. That ignited an industry of commercial applications for drone technology, much of which is oriented around some aspect of the building, inspecting, marketing and securing of real estate. By next year, the FAA estimates there will be as many as 638,000 commercial drones in operation, up from 277,000 last year, an increase of 130%.

But as big a boon as drones may be to real estate, they also threaten to alter the concept of home as a personal sanctuary. As Ms. Dunn learned, spaces once considered private by tradition, Fourth Amendment rights and the laws of physics are now easily pierced by drones.

“Airspace was until recently a very inaccessible place,” said Arthur Holland Michel, co-director of the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College in New York’s Hudson Valley. “Drones are transformative. We are going to be increasingly watched from above.”

Over 900 public safety agencies have acquired drones, for everything from inspections of public buildings to checking roofs, surveillance, search and rescue, and fire fighting, said Mr. Holland Michel. Aerial photography, often used to market high-end property, accounted for 79% of all commercial drone use before 2016, the last year data on drone usages is available, said Tom McMahon at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, a large industry trade group. Drones are used by insurance companies to assess property damage and by construction firms to capture images and measurements, Mr. McMahon said.

Shelley West, 54, lives in a high-rise in North Vancouver and in a house in a gated community in Indio, Calif., in the Coachella Valley, which she bought because it is “very private, with an over 6-foot-high stone wall” around the yard, she said. Last April, she was sunbathing in the nude and dozing off in her backyard when she realized a drone was hovering directly above her.

“If I had a BB gun, I would have loved to…shoot it down,” said Ms. West, who owns a company that makes a lady’s golf glove. Bizarrely, back home in Canada later that summer, she again found herself, this time fully clothed, watched by a drone hovering beyond her terrace. Ms. West suspected the drones belonged to a short-term renter attending the Coachella festival and, in Canada, a neighbor.

It is a federal crime to bring down a drone or any other aircraft regulated by the FAA, according to the federal agency. Also illegal: Using “jamming” equipment to interrupt the signal between the drone and its operator, per Federal Communications Commission regulations.

Nervous homeowners often call DroneShield , a company based in Sydney, Australia, with an office in Warrenton, Virginia, asking for weapons to “defeat the drone and take it down,” said Oleg Vornik, chief executive officer. DroneShield makes both types of equipment for military applications but it can’t legally sell either to ordinary U.S. citizens, Mr. Vornik said.

Instead, regular folks can buy the company’s “drone detection” products that pin point the location of a drone and its operator. Requests come most often from “a VIP customer living on a compound who faces privacy threats—journalists with cameras,” Mr. Vornik said, who declined to say whether or not he has any residential customers.

Another counterdrone measure: Drone-hunting birds of prey. Guard from Above, a company in The Hague, Holland, trains bald eagles to hunt down and immobilize drones. Clients who want a bird on patrol at their residence must build a “birdquarter,” a protected space where birds can bathe, feed, and move around comfortably based on the company’s guidelines, which must comply with various country and state regulations, said chief executive and founder Sjoerd Hoogendoorn. A professional bird handler is also required. Part of their job is to feed the birds “several kinds of meat” and keeps tabs on their charges through GPS trackers, he said.

Mr. Hoogendoorn said the company has received requests for its services from property owners in the U.S., U.K, Europe, Russia and South America. He declined to say how many birds are currently operational, and declined to provide ballpark figures for what it costs to acquire a drone-hunting bird and pay a wrangler. He did say each year “maybe only seven birds will have what it takes to certify as a GFA drone-hunting eagle” and that it takes an entire year to train one, making it “a substantial investment.”

After their drone encounter, the Dunns wanted the local police to take action against the drone operator, whom Ms. Dunn assumed could be apprehended as a “peeping Tom.” Right after the incident, they called the building concierge, who saw the operator pulling the drone into his jeep in the building’s parking lot. The license plate was registered to visitors who had booked a short-term rental in the building, Ms. Dunn said. The couple reported the incident to the Atlanta police department, Ms. Dunn said.

“The case remains open and the suspect has not been identified,” said Officer Stephanie Brown with the Atlanta Police Department. “The use of a drone for spying in windows is illegal and anyone caught doing so could be charged with a felony.”

FAA regulations are designed to protect the safety of the skies, not personal privacy and residential security. Those issues are addressed by a patchwork of state and local laws and ordinances. California, known for its strong privacy laws, added a prohibition in 2015 against entering the airspace above someone’s land to capture visual images of them. Other states prohibit using drones for peeping or spying, flying near a prison, or interfering with first responders.

“Just because the FAA says a drone operator may access the airspace under certain circumstances doesn’t give the operator a ‘pass’ on state laws,” said Lydia Hilton, an attorney who practices drone law, among other areas, at Berman Fink Van Horn in Atlanta. Still, local law enforcement’s knowledge and understanding of current law varies widely, as does enforcement itself, said Mr. Holland Michel.

The lack of clarity stems in part from the fact there isn’t much precedent in drone law, said A. Michael Froomkin, a professor of law at University of Miami School of Law.

Meanwhile, drones are creating both opportunity and anxiety in the real-estate world. Mala Sander, a real-estate agent with the Corcoran Group, said she was recently with a drone photographer and a client interested in a $16 million lot in Sag Harbor, New York. They stood at the edge of the property, peering into an iPad that was showing the potential buyer soaring images of the water view shot by the drone.

Then a neighbor started yelling.

“‘What are you doing? Are you spying on me? I’m trying to have lunch and you’re invading my privacy!’” the neighbor shouted, said Ms. Sander. “I politely explained that we were looking at the land and nothing else.”

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