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$40 Hardware Is Enough To Hack $28,000 Police Drones From 2km Away (theregister.co.uk) 97

mask.of.sanity writes: Thieves can hijack $28,000 professional drones used widely across the law enforcement, emergency, and private sectors using $40 worth of hardware. The quadcopters can be hijacked from up to two kilometers away thanks to a lack of encryption, which is not present due to latency overheads. Attackers can commandeer radio links to the drones from up to two kilometers away, and block operators from reconnecting to the craft. With the targeted Xbee chip being very common in drones, IBM security guy Nils Rodday says it is likely many more aircraft are open to compromise.
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$40 Hardware Is Enough To Hack $28,000 Police Drones From 2km Away

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    I never heard encryption causing latency overhead that matters for RC....more like serious negligence overhead

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 02, 2016 @12:38AM (#51826651)

      Read the article...they went cheap and the CPU doesn't properly support encryption. Saved a few bucks in parts cost, but now have a completely insecure system...hah

      • No, they went stupid. The chips they are using DO have encryption built in. All XBee chips do, as an example.

    • by booboo ( 21908 )

      It creates cashflow latency overhead.

  • How hard can it be? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by blindseer ( 891256 ) <blindseer@earthlink . n et> on Saturday April 02, 2016 @12:59AM (#51826683)

    I admit I'm no crypto expert but I have had a few IT security certifications over the years. It seems simple enough to have a key exchange with the remote by a cable, so people can't sniff it out of the air, and then have the drone look for that key in every control packet. Of course there would need to be some computation on that key but we have special purpose chips that can do that with minimal delay or power. The algorithms are open source and highly secure so there is little risk or cost there.

    I guess adding a $1 port and a $2 codec chip on both the controller and drone is too much to ask for protecting a $28k drone from being stolen or destroyed by a prankster.

    The concern seems to be the delay. Perhaps the commands could be passed through and the commands verified after the fact. If the commands fail then the drone could go in a limited performance mode where every packet needs to be verified, or it goes into a "go home" mode and ignores some or all commands.

    No doubt this is what happens in the early development of almost every technology. I recall some similar security failings in the early days of long distance telephones. Some of those security holes may still survive today. People could make long distance phone calls without paying by using a whistle that came free with breakfast cereal. People could steal high end cars by shorting out the right wires.

    People that don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

    • by BitZtream ( 692029 ) on Saturday April 02, 2016 @02:39AM (#51826843)

      I guess adding a $1 port and a $2 codec chip on both the controller and drone is too much to ask for protecting a $28k drone from being stolen or destroyed by a prankster.

      The XBee radios they are using for communications support encryption out of the box. All you have to do is turn it on and give it a key and it does all the work.

      People could make long distance phone calls without paying by using a whistle that came free with breakfast cereal.

      Its only slightly more complicated now. I can safely say you have everything you need available to you RIGHT NOW to make all the free phone calls you want, only now you can do it without leaving your home and even make it practically untraceable while you sit at home!

      The PSTN is still based on the idea that all the connections are relatively trusted because people will 'never figure out how to do this and its a dedicated link' ... unfortunately, that is not now and never really was actually true.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Funny that such an expensive drone uses hobby kit parts.

    • Perhaps that just shows what high quality "hobby" parts have achieved.

      That's the thing with mass production and economies of scale can do, improve quality while lowering costs. Things that no so long ago would have been an expensive custom item are now cheap enough and of a high enough quality that someone would be stupid to go back to that custom item.

      I suspect that it is quite possible that people will make passenger carrying craft with the same chips used in toys. The difference between an RC toy autop

      • by llzackll ( 68018 )

        lost me at economies of scale but i know im not some drone that always needs to be aware of some evasive bs or whatever or whatever should not be evading anything because it should not be felt there is anything to hide due to history and all that stuff, so am i posting like this just to validate myself because i could care less if people are narcissistic. everybody is but its nothing to make a big deal out of. im not even trying to outsmart anyone but having to constantly defend yourself sh ouldnt be neces

      • Perhaps that just shows what high quality "hobby" parts have achieved.

        That's the thing with mass production and economies of scale can do, improve quality while lowering costs. Things that no so long ago would have been an expensive custom item are now cheap enough and of a high enough quality that someone would be stupid to go back to that custom item.

        Indeed. In 2003, image-sensors for optical microscopes (in labs) cost from $2000-$8000.

        I built one for about $40, and it worked perfectly.

        Bought a Mattel QX3 'toy' USB microscope off ebay, ripped out the sensor, stuck it into a tuna can, and mounted that atop a high-quality compound microscope at the RFP. The toy's software worked just fine, enabling super-cheap 40x–1000x image-capture from top-end optics.

        Sure, CMOS sensors are noisy, so I just cranked up the illumination for good SNR. And 320x240

    • Funny that such an expensive drone uses hobby kit parts.

      It's not really that surprising if you think about it. RC models are basically drones whose primary purpose is entertainment and fun, light military drones are RC models who have been repurposed for intelligence gathering and spotting for air and artillery strikes or police commando raids. The explosion in the development of light drones for military and police use is a pretty recent phenomenon driven by heavily miniaturised computers/cameras/GPS sensors (a product of the mobile device revolution) small eno

      • However, when it comes to the airframe and control part of the equation kit hobbyists have been developing an entire industry around remote controlled craft of every conceivable kind since the 1940s that has even put mass manufactured micro jet engines that fit into the budget range of ordinary RC hobbyists. It is only natural that Police/Military light drone manufacturers would dip into such an extensive pool of existing industrial infrastructure and design knowledge to keep costs down.

        The problem with this idea is that the only especially interesting parts of the code are the flight control parts. The rest is pretty boring. Equally, the off the shelf hardware is not all that interesting. The only thing that it has to recommend it is footprint. You're not saving any money by buying an off the shelf autopilot as compared to buying an Arduino (or whatever) and a 10dof board. It's natural that they'd want to dip into the community, but it's not clear what they're really getting out of the ha

  • by Max_W ( 812974 ) on Saturday April 02, 2016 @02:33AM (#51826829)
    Drones are no good for a conflict encounter with peers or near peers. This technology should be left to the civil industry.
    • by dissy ( 172727 )

      Encryption is still no good against jamming

      Yes, because encryption is not a defense against one specific attack type, logically you shouldn't even bother trying to defend against all the other attacks you perfectly well can defend yourself against.

      Because logic!

  • do they even have these in use yet ? or is this just some headline to scare people. have to ask because of the way the summary is written

  • I have to call BULLSHIT on the latency statement. The amount of latency added from decent encryption would be unnoticeable on any modern processing platform. WTF sort of mickey mouse crap are they using in these $28k drones? even a raspberry Pi could handle encryption without noticeable latency.
  • by toonces33 ( 841696 ) on Saturday April 02, 2016 @05:49AM (#51827141)

    That if you want to encrypt the video stream from the drone back to ground, that you might have a lot of latency as that could take some horsepower. But encrypting the navigation signals ought not create any problems with latency.

    • That if you want to encrypt the video stream from the drone back to ground, that you might have a lot of latency as that could take some horsepower. But encrypting the navigation signals ought not create any problems with latency.

      Their comm link should probably be encrypted. But I do not want their video stream encrypted.

      Any citizen can buy a "Police Scanner" to listen to their chatter. This should be no different. Watch the watchers.

      • Any citizen can buy a "Police Scanner" to listen to their chatter. This should be no different. Watch the watchers.

        Alas, most cop shops have moved on to encrypted digital radio, and they only give scanners to their trusted media toadies.

  • I definitely don't know all the circumstances so it's hard to judge, but perhaps CPU processing capacity was not the limiting factor.

    I imagine most likely it was because the builder wanted to use off-the shelf components, but it might also be because the communications links are low bandwidth and they did not want to incur the overhead of encryption or they thought that they needed to send data in blocks (CBC I think) rather than adopting a streaming form of encryption (there are lots to choose from [stackoverflow.com]) And t

  • Wait... I forgot...... Does Obama dump the screaming new born kids in the fire @ Bohemian Grove during the Cremation of Care Ritual , OR Just the High Priest? Drone The Grove 2016! Yes Grandma, for the last time there will be countless wave after wave of Drones flying above the Bohemian Grove streaming the Cremation of Care Ritual to YouTube and CNN, get over it and take your pills silly...

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