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Many UAVs Vulnerable To Directed-Energy Weapons 153

Posted by Soulskill
from the phasers-on-stun dept.
mask.of.sanity writes "A New Zealand researcher has detailed ways that UAVs can be crashed using cheap tools like Herf guns and GPS jammers, and could even be downed by flying drones with more powerful radio. The attacks (podcast) interfere with the navigation systems used by flying drones and are possible because security was not designed into the architecture of some machines."
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Many UAVs Vulnerable To Directed-Energy Weapons

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  • Illegal (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Neil Boekend (1854906) on Wednesday November 20, 2013 @09:11AM (#45471731)
    Yes, of course there are illegal tools that can down them.
    Next up: "drones vulnerable to anti-air missiles"
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Sockatume (732728)

      You were the kind of kid who, upon reading about dinosaurs for the first time, said "yeah, well I already knew that there was such a thing as animals", right?

      • Re: (Score:2, Redundant)

        by somersault (912633)

        No no, he never learned to read, because he already knew there was such a thing as conveying information.

      • Re:Illegal (Score:5, Informative)

        by Neil Boekend (1854906) on Wednesday November 20, 2013 @09:40AM (#45471933)
        Nope. That an UAV is vulnerable to extreme high power microwaves just doesn't surprise me.
        There is a lot that would be destroyed with a blast from such a HERF gun. Wifi interfaces and bluetooth devices especially like it. That is why it is usually illegal (and stupid) to use a microwave oven with a damaged containment.
        • by mhajicek (1582795)
          Just remember to buy your drone hunting license first.
        • by mjwalshe (1680392)
          But the inverse square law applies the problem becomes increasing the power output and having good enough fire control to be able to direct the beam onto the target (maneuvering in 3d space) for long enough to be useful as opposed to the trusty Dushka (12.7 mm HMG)

          Of course you then just fly the drones with escort drones and when they detect a CREWS attack you whack a hellfire equipped to home on radiation to kill the attacker - you could probably automate this or just have a big red button next to the d
      • the point is, duh, UAVs are aircraft and are similar to any modern aircraft in their susceptibilities.

    • by Nerdfest (867930)

      The amazing part here is there doesn't seem to be much basic 'offline' intelligence built into them so that if control signals are scrambled or lost it can fly straight and level until conditions improve.

      • Re:Illegal (Score:5, Informative)

        by gtall (79522) on Wednesday November 20, 2013 @09:52AM (#45472005)

        I don't know about all UAVs but the U.S. military ones are programmed to fly home if they get confused. Dunno how they find home if they lose GPS but at least they thought about the issue.

        • by nospam007 (722110) *

          "I don't know about all UAVs but the U.S. military ones are programmed to fly home if they get confused."

          Just like some old people, drones don't always know that they are confused.

        • Oh, that's strange "HOME" seems to be right in the middle of that convoy... Oh well, just following my orders, sir!

        • I don't know about all UAVs but the U.S. military ones are programmed to fly home if they get confused. Dunno how they find home if they lose GPS but at least they thought about the issue.

          Or they thought about how to market the product. Doesn't mean there's actually any functionality there.

        • by geekoid (135745)

          Navigate via landmarks, probably.

          You don't actually need GPS to find someplace, it's just a lot easier and more accurate.

          • by yurtinus (1590157)
            They don't have sensors to identify landmarks - unless they're being piloted remotely by camera that's no use. Even so, if GPS is denied, they can use inertial navigation and compass heading to get pretty darn close to their failsafe waypoints.
        • Dunno how they find home if they lose GPS

          I have only thought about this for five seconds, but here is my solution: Use a $5 magnetic compass to maintain a constant heading until you are far enough from the jammer to pick up the GPS signal again. Then use GPS to fly home.

        • Re:Illegal (Score:4, Informative)

          by ImprovOmega (744717) on Wednesday November 20, 2013 @02:03PM (#45474245)

          I don't know about all UAVs but the U.S. military ones are programmed to fly home if they get confused. Dunno how they find home if they lose GPS but at least they thought about the issue.

          Inertial Navigation Systems [wikipedia.org]. Not as accurate as GPS, but good enough to at least not land in enemy territory. And hypothetically by the time you got within a few miles of the base, the GPS would be back online.

          • by Solandri (704621)
            The problem is, if the computer notices a discrepancy between its location as reported by the GPS and INS, how does it decide which one to believe and which one has failed?
            • by Rich0 (548339)

              This is a fairly solved problem, actually. Serious navigation systems continuously estimate their performance, and have redundant sensors/etc. When an airliner is approaching an airport via clouds the pilot will not attempt the approach if the navigation system reports that its accuracy isn't sufficient to guarantee the avoidance of obstacles (the required performance gets tighter as you get closer to the ground, up to the max of Cat III ILS which basically can land a plane with no visibility at all which

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        If they're not protected against RF then it doesn't matter how much offline intelligence you build in, because it will still get scrambled by HERF. You have to not only consider how much noise your design will generate, but what kind of electrical noise in your circuit will be generated by excessive radio noise. If you've bought an Arduino and an IMU off the shelf you have none of that.

    • by Dunbal (464142) *
      Yep, not exactly news [youtube.com] lol.
    • by leuk_he (194174)

      You will get intelligent drones that can fly standalone, without any remote control. From there is is a very small step to automate the "kill human"decision as well

      Termintor drones are not as far away as you might think.

      The other solution is not to make them more resistant to such attacks, but to make them so cheap you do not have to worry to loose a drone. You just pcik up a new one, use like one uses other munition/rockets.

    • by fredrated (639554)

      What does 'illegal' have to due with the topic of discussion? Are you claiming a general rule like "For any given X, of course you can do X if you allow illegal stuff"?

    • Yes, of course there are illegal tools that can down them.

      You can actually legally own a Bofors L/60 towed anti aircraft autocannon in the US. Drones are vulnerable to one of those too, along with pretty much everything else less beefy than a main battle tank.

      • by cusco (717999)

        I think you have to fix it so that it only operates in semi-automatic mode, don't you?

        • No you just need to be a Class 3 firearms license holder, which you would need anyway since at 40mm with a rifled barrel it is a class 3 destructive device.
  • Yeah, and my BIC pen melts so easily when I throw it in the blast furnace. Lousy engineers.
    • by slim (1652) <john@hartn u p .net> on Wednesday November 20, 2013 @09:24AM (#45471837) Homepage

      Beautifully put, and correct.

      However:

      New Zealand security researcher Stuart MacIntosh told delegates at the Kiwicon 7 conference in Wellington that some vulnerable drone technology designed in the hobby space had trickled down into use by police and commercial operators.

      Which makes it notable. Before you use a consumer-oriented item for more serious use, you need to evaluate its fitness for purpose.

      Of course, you might go ahead and use it anyway - that's what risk assessment is all about.

      • by Shoten (260439) on Wednesday November 20, 2013 @10:17AM (#45472197)

        Beautifully put, and correct.

        However:

        New Zealand security researcher Stuart MacIntosh told delegates at the Kiwicon 7 conference in Wellington that some vulnerable drone technology designed in the hobby space had trickled down into use by police and commercial operators.

        Which makes it notable. Before you use a consumer-oriented item for more serious use, you need to evaluate its fitness for purpose.

        Of course, you might go ahead and use it anyway - that's what risk assessment is all about.

        Also true...but honestly, I can't recall the last time cops had to worry about crooks with HERF guns. It would be a lot easier, safer and cheaper for the bad guys to simply *shoot* at the drones in these situations. We're not talking about flights of Predators or Reapers flying thousands of feet up, backed by a Gorgon's Eye implementation. We're talking about what's basically a glorified RC copter flying at hundreds of feet.

        I will now coin a new acronym..."KEDW," or "Kinetic Energy Directed Weapon," also known as a "gun," and go speak to a conference about how it is a much worse threat than this...because not only can it shoot down police drones, it can hurt people too!

        • by oodaloop (1229816)
          It may not be as easy as you think to shoot and hit a small moving target hundreds of feet in the air.
          • by Baloroth (2370816)

            I think anyone who has ever been bird hunting (or clay pigeon shooting) knows exactly how hard it is to hit small moving targets hundreds of feet in the air.

            • More like dozens of feet.

              Not hundreds.

              Bird & clay pigeon shooting is typically small gauge shotguns, whose range is dozens of feet. Not hundreds.

            • by bobbied (2522392) on Wednesday November 20, 2013 @11:43AM (#45472939)

              Well, if you can get a drone within 50 yards of me, I could possibly hit it with the shotgun. Outside of that range, things get a whole lot more difficult and it's going to be impossible outside of about 100 yards. Trying to hit a drone using a rifle is about the best you can hope for beyond 100 yards, and those shots would be one in a million.

              So, if the drone is flying higher than about 150 feet it is unlikely to be in danger from any kinetic weapon carried by the perp.

              • by denzacar (181829)

                What about you and a couple of your friends armed with AKs?

                If I recall correctly that kind of shooting is effective up to 600 meters (concentrated firing).

                • by oodaloop (1229816)
                  Against stationary targets maybe, or if the UAV is moving towards you. If it's moving quickly tangentially to you, good luck. Also, UAV's come in many sizes and shapes. Unless you know for sure either its altitude or size, you won't know where to aim. As in, "Is that a small UAV at 150 feet, a medium UAV at 500 feet, or a large UAV at a 1,000 feet?"
                  • by denzacar (181829)

                    If it's a police UAV it will be a standard model.

                    It will also most probably be short range cause unlike the army and NSA police needs a warrant to snoop on half the city at once, which one of those flying at 1000 feet would probably be doing.
                    Also, if it's gonna cover an area effectively it will have to be capable of hovering in urban environments without crashing into buildings when wind hits it from one side AND should it fall down on unsuspecting civilians it should not be able to crush and kill anyone.
                    Al

                • by slim (1652)

                  Effective against what? A Parrot AR Drone (the hobby UAV under test) is about 57cm across. Much less than that side-on.

                  That's a pretty tiny target at 600 meters distance.

                  • by denzacar (181829)

                    Bullets are also tiny - but there are many of them.
                    And as long as the coordinates of some of them overlap with those "57 cm across"...

                    5 guys with AKs can create a bullet ridden area that will quickly cover those 57 cm and more.
                    Don't think of it as sharpshooting - think flak.

                • by BlueStrat (756137)

                  What about you and a couple of your friends armed with AKs?

                  If I recall correctly that kind of shooting is effective up to 600 meters (concentrated firing).

                  It would be extremely effective.

                  *if* you concentrate the AK47 fire at the personnel in the portable trailer containing the drone-operator control stations, and/or their families in the case of a domestic conflict. It makes it very hard to concentrate on targeting/killing civilians with a drone if you're worried sick about your entire family being executed and your home being burned to the ground while you're busy.

                  There are no "rules" in a domestic civil war and military personnel's families would be high on

                  • by denzacar (181829)

                    I think I saw such a scenario in one of those Mel Gibson/Danny Glover documentaries.

                    Or was it one with Arnold Braunschweiger?

            • by Shoten (260439)

              I think anyone who has ever been bird hunting (or clay pigeon shooting) knows exactly how hard it is to hit small moving targets hundreds of feet in the air.

              Yes, but two things. One, drones of the sort described in the report don't move around much when being used, and definitely not at the speed of a clay pigeon. Two, you get more than one shot at it. Three, you can use a scope, or a shotgun with a smaller or larger choke as you like. Four, even if you miss, just shooting at the drone may be enough to get them to move it, thus succeeding in impeding its usefulness.

              And five, the difficulty of shooting a moving object with a projectile is less than that of s

          • ...with a single bullet.

            They will more likely be willing to simultaneously empty several clips of several automatic rifles in the general direction of the target.

    • by Copid (137416)
      Yeah, this shouldn't really be an Earth-shattering surprise. In fact, I've always thought that the DOD interest in directed energy weapons was specifically for shooting down cheap flimsy things like drones. Even countries with tiny military budgets could build large fleets of drones that we would have a hard time shooting down with conventional missiles. I just figured that HERF weapons and the like were the simplest solution to swatting a lot of lightweight threats in a reliable cost-effective way.
  • anti-drone warfare (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AndroSyn (89960) on Wednesday November 20, 2013 @09:12AM (#45471743) Homepage

    It was only a matter of time before anti-drone warfare came about. This happens with every new piece of weaponry, the quest for the anti-weapon. They don't call it an arms race for no reason.

    • by timeOday (582209)
      Sure, but this article isn't even about anti-drone warfare. The researcher states: "A lot of these UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) were not really designed with security in mind apart from some that may be destined for law enforcement use or military use."

      This research is not invalid, but it's akin to showing how you can listen in on some walkie-talkies from radio shack. There certainly are analogous concerns in designing military command & control systems, but they are about 70 years past this leve

      • by Rich0 (548339)

        Isn't that kind of like saying that the average commercial building has surveillance cameras vulnerable to a water gun filled with paint? This stuff is designed to watch traffic, or survey land, and so on. If they need to suppress a riot they'll probably send in the APCs.

  • I don't know of anything invulnerable to directed-energy weapons. From diamonds and steel to civilization and hope, everything is vulnerable to a quasar's polar jet.

    I didn't expect UAVs to survive, alone in the emptiness of space after the cataclysmic event disintegrated the entire solar system.

    Well, almost alone. There would be Nokia phones too, of course.

    • by Sockatume (732728) on Wednesday November 20, 2013 @09:15AM (#45471769)

      The catch here is that these "directed energy weapons" were cheap trivialities bought off eBay and not military EW apparatus or gigantic celestial furnaces.

      • by Thanshin (1188877)

        The point in my post is that "Directed-Energy Weapons" is unnecessarily insufficiently precise.

        • unnecessarily insufficiently precise.

          Oh come on, now you're just being not unintentionally acutely obtuse.

      • Calling them "directed energy weapons" in the headline was pretty stupid. They're radio jammers and spoofers. What's their output, 10W?

        • by nospam007 (722110) *

          "Calling them "directed energy weapons" in the headline was pretty stupid. They're radio jammers and spoofers. What's their output, 10W?"

          A 1200 Watt Microwave oven emitter with a decent directional antenna is still cheaper.

        • A HERF is a converted microwave oven. They usually range in the 800-1500 W range. That is a directed energy weapon.
          It's also bad for other electronics and illegal in most countries (EM emission limits and all that).
        • Calling them "directed energy weapons" in the headline was pretty stupid. They're radio jammers and spoofers. What's their output, 10W?

          That's 10,000,000,000 nanowatts!!!!

      • by LWATCDR (28044)

        The catch here is they are not talking about military drones.
        From the article.
        "You can walk all over [the Parrot AR Drone] with frequency-hopping spread spectrum ... you can fly a radio plane near an AR drone and it will very quickly get packet loss," MacIntosh said."
        You can interfere with a toy.... And Slashdot tumbles farther down the FUD hole.

    • by lxs (131946)

      With the exception of bombs that scatter shrapnel in all directions, aren't most weapons directed energy weapons?
      I'll stop being pedantic before someones fist directs kinetic energy my way.

    • From diamonds and steel to civilization and hope, everything is vulnerable to a quasar's polar jet.

      Ah, you must be Slashdot's resident poet. I look forward to your next coffee table volume. ;-)

    • First of all this article is not even talking about Military drones!
      From the article.
      ""You can walk all over [the Parrot AR Drone] with frequency-hopping spread spectrum ... you can fly a radio plane near an AR drone and it will very quickly get packet loss," MacIntosh said."

      eww you can jam a toy.... Really Slashdot you are now the National Enquire.

  • Surely our beloved overlords already have planned for and created such weapons and technology. Surely they wouldn't have spend eleventy billion dollars producing aircraft that can be downed by a 'more powerful radio'. There is probably a pilot contractor riding in each UAV as a backup. After all, un-maned != un-contractor'd.

    • by Sockatume (732728)

      TFA refers to civilian UAVs and their derivatives in law enforcement and the like, not military drones.

    • by AHuxley (892839)
      It really depends where the US is wrt the "planned for and created" vs prototype that can be sold to the US gov vs what the US gov wants to risk.
      All the US gov needs is a tool to watch, soak up signals and use for double tap missile strikes.
      All the US export market needs is a tool to watch, soak up signals and to enjoy ongoing 'parts' and 'service' contracts.
      The contractors are happy with every sale, the long term contracts, the missions work out and US gov risks little in the way of new tech with any cr
      • all it would really take is

        1 design and build a drone that is "cheap" by DOD standards
        2 as a first stage after %time% without a gps lock enable a GO HOME (use terrain recog)
        3 stage 2 (after %time% X 1.N) it either A climbs to MAX HEIGHT B finds the nearest "valid target" and then it self destructs

        i would of course make sure that the destruct package had a decent amount of BANG

  • by wonkey_monkey (2592601) on Wednesday November 20, 2013 @09:38AM (#45471923) Homepage

    You could probably take a low-flying one down with a trebuchet.

  • Unless they invented laser proof UAV's....

  • ..will never not make me think of lasers
  • Special drone-downing awards by category

    Primitive Weaponry: bow & arrow, bola, net/sein, and rocks
    Animal-Assisted: pigeons, seagulls, or trained hunting raptors (hawks, falcons, etc.).
    Innovative: laser pointers, mirrors & sunlight deathrays, RC toy, other.
    The Force: verbal command, hand gesture
  • The link takes you to Directed Energy Weapons; the only instance of HERF is a link to an empty page that takes you back from whence you came. There is no definition of the acronym on either page.

    So thanks for the enlightenment.
  • But can the operator... use his cell phone during take off and landing?
  • Directed Energy Weapons?

    Name a weapon that is not directed energy?

    Most fall into the Kinetic verity I would think.

    Poison maybe? Then again, this is probably because I really lack an understanding of how poisons generally work. After all that's a woman's weapon amiright? And we all know how direct they can be... ;)

Testing can show the presense of bugs, but not their absence. -- Dijkstra

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