Can drones be hacked?

Drones are quickly becoming more popular, especially as the ones equipped with cameras come down in price. But while they can be amazingly entertaining to fly and have fun with, there are concerns that they are vulnerable to hackers.

It has long been known that once a device transmits data, that data can be intercepted. We’ve seen it happen with connected cars, and unfortunately the same is true with drones.

If you were hoping the answer to the question “Can drones be hacked?” was “no”, we have some bad news. They can, and have been hacked.

In 2011 Iranian military successfully took control of a U.S. drone and landed it in Iranian territory. They did this by jamming the frequency that the drone used to navigate by GPS. As a back-up the drone searched for unencrypted frequencies to find out where to go. It was here that the Iranians sent a message telling the drone that it was near its home, even though it was actually far away. The drone then went into land mode, and touched down miles from where it should have been.

And if military grade encryption and devices can be sabotaged, it’s clear the same can happen to everyday drones that you can buy in stores. The current method to take control of a drone is very similar. First hackers disrupt the signal between the owner and the owner’s drone using malware. Once the connection is severed, the hacker syncs his software with the drone, and the attack is complete. With no way to take back control, the original owner could potentially lose his drone forever.

There are many reasons why someone might want to hack a drone. In extreme cases it might be used to cause an act of terror, but much more likely is to play pranks on people. It could also be used in criminal activity, and if drone deliveries are launched, you can expect hackers to try and steal goods as they are transported.

For now, drones are vulnerable, but there will undoubtedly be increased attention on their security if attacks become more common.