Drone sales may be going up, but a 2016 study at John Hopkins University shows how easy it can be to bring a drone down. Lanier Watkins is a senior researcher of cybersecurity and professor at John Hopkins. He is among those who are afraid of flaws in drones.
Watkins’ graduate students had to create a project that applies what they had learned. At his suggestion, five of his students chose to conduct experiments on a favorite type of drone. Their goal was to find flaws in the drone’s programming and create software to take advantage of them.
In their first test, they used the WI-FI to send a thousand different requests asking for control over it. The sheer amount of applications overloaded the drone’s computer and caused a shutdown. Once that happened, the drone came crashing down to the ground.
In the second test, they sent the drone a piece of data that was too big for it to process. Exceeding its flight app’s buffer capacity, the data caused the drone to shut down for the second time. Another drone crash for the research team.
In the final test, the team sent a fake digital packet from a laptop to the drone’s remote controller. It tricked the controller into thinking the sender was the drone itself, and then cut off its link to it. This cutoff led to the drone making what they called “an emergency landing.”