What would ‘Q’ make of Drones?

Helicopter drone filming video

In literature and film ‘Q’ is the head of the fictional research and development division of the British Secret Service. He produces all manners of gadgets that resemble everyday objects but have sinister uses to help James Bond protect Britain and live another day.

However, what would ‘Q’ and his team make of drones – the ubiquitous unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV)? These are flying devices that are either autonomously or remotely controlled. Drones are well known in the military field and are increasingly being used in the civilian market place and are readily available to the man or woman in the street. Drones have been used by journalists, protesters and individuals for surveillance and monitoring. However their use like most technology has not been covered adequately by law which is failing to keep pace with changes in technology.

In the last couple of months the media has reported that a French teenager has been arrested and charged with endangering lives, after flying and filming from a hobbyist drone over the city of Nancy
Also in Jerusalem, a Jewish man was arrested after flying drone over al-Aqsa mosque. In Australia a man has been arrested for allegedly trying to smuggle drugs into a prison using a drone.

Whilst some of these are imaginative uses of drones, what fiendish devices would ‘Q’ and his team come up with? I’m sure that a bit of brainstorming would reveal even more imaginative ideas than those already mentioned, but some wild and potentially worrying uses have already been unveiled in public.

SkyJack developed by by Samy Kamkar is a drone engineered to autonomously seek out, hack, and wirelessly take over other drones within WiFi distance, creating an army of zombie drones under the control of the attacker. Whilst this has been demonstrated, practical usage have not been identified yet!

Hackers have developed a drone that can steal the contents of your smartphone, from the location data to passwords. The technology, innocently called Snoopy, searches for mobiles with their WiFi settings turned on, which is the vast majority. A microcontroller configured as a wireless sniffer is then attached to a drone which is then remotely flown over the heads of the public.

This shows that hardware enthusiasts who experiment with electronics and technology are thinking out of the box when it comes to uses of drones. Those behind these projects don’t have malicious intentions and often try to prove points about security and privacy and get kudos for being the first. But once an idea is in the public domain, other more malicious people will find ways of using the technology in nefarious purposes.

It is obvious that the use of drones, especially those equipped with cameras, will need to be regulated and controlled through legal means to protect privacy. It also means those in information and physical security will need to consider how the use of drones will affect security of the assets they are protecting. It is also an example of how the security professionals need to keep up to date with the threat landscape and technology usage.