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Australia Security Transportation

UAV Operator Blames Hacking For Malfunction That Injured Triathlete 178

jaa101 (627731) writes "The owner of a drone which fell and reportedly hit an athlete competing in a triathlon in Western Australia's Mid West has said he believes the device was 'hacked' into." From the article: "Mr Abrams said an initial investigation had indicted that someone nearby "channel hopped" the device, taking control away from the operator. ... Mr Abrams said it was a deliberate act and it would be difficult to determine who was responsible as something as common as a mobile phone could be used to perform a channel hop. The videographer added that there had been a similar incident when the drone was flown earlier in the day."
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UAV Operator Blames Hacking For Malfunction That Injured Triathlete

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  • by tlambert ( 566799 ) on Sunday April 06, 2014 @11:45PM (#46680603)

    If only it were possible to do challenge/response! Using a pre-arranged CERT, so that the drone sends a challenge for each command that has to be encrypted with the shared secret before the drone would accept it!

    Oh... wait... it's completely possible.

  • What BS (Score:5, Insightful)

    by NewtonsLaw ( 409638 ) on Sunday April 06, 2014 @11:59PM (#46680667)

    Modern 2.4GHz RC gear requires a significant level of tech-expertise to "hijack" in the manner suggested.

    Occam's Razor has the answer...

    Simple mechanical, electrical or operator failure -- nothing more, nothing less.

    Too many would-be "drone" operators have scant understanding of the need for a maintenance schedule and proper planning before deploying even the smallest and most lightweight of craft.

    The problem is that far to many people buy these things and then treat them as if they'll just keep working forever -- simply charge the battery and fly!

    Unfortunately, props fatigue, motor bearings wear, ESCs can overheat and flight controllers can fail.

    There's a hell of a lot more to safely deploying one of these craft than flipping a few switches and wiggling some sticks.

    I'm not a commercial operator -- I fly for fun but even *I* am very much aware of the importance of good housekeeping and planning when it comes to using these things safely.

  • Re:Evolution (Score:5, Insightful)

    by davester666 ( 731373 ) on Monday April 07, 2014 @12:20AM (#46680783) Journal

    This is the funny part "The videographer added that there had been a similar incident when the drone was flown earlier in the day."

    If he drove a car, and he noticed that the brakes had failed earlier, but instead of getting it repaired, he started a new trip, eventually plowing into a group of people, he would be in jail...

    I guess it's different if you are piloting a toy plane over a crowd.

  • A likely story (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Brett Buck ( 811747 ) on Monday April 07, 2014 @12:25AM (#46680813)

    I have been flying model airplanes for 50ish years now, and in that time, I have never ever heard of any RC pilot crashing due to pilot error. In every single case, it was "radio failure"

  • by ausoleil ( 322752 ) on Monday April 07, 2014 @12:25AM (#46680815) Homepage

    Multicopter pilot here. In short, it looks like the pilot was a hobbyist out of his depth and was performing dangerous maneuvers before any so-called hacking with equipment not meant for the job.

    I don't know a lot about the specifics of the accident, but the multicopter that was involved in the accident was using a very outmoded form of technology to control the multicopter (wifi) rather than the far more reliable multichannel failsafe 2.4GHz DSMX systems that are in common use with bigger multicopters. While it may be possible to "hack" the signals controlling the 'copter, it's more likely that the control loss was due to RF interference, either by purpose or accident. I would imagine that a sporting event such as the one where the incident occurred would be awash in wifi signals from dozens if not hundreds of sources.

    Secondly, the multicopter pilot was doing something that experienced pilots / cinematographers strongly avoid: flying directly over people. Even the best control systems and multicopters can malfunction, and hovering over a crowd is obviously a bad place for that to happen.

    The type of multicopter also gives away the apparent lack of skills or experience of the pilot. Parrot AR 'copters are not professional-grade equipment and they are not devices that someone who earns a good bit of money from aerial filming would use.

    (note: apologies for a double post, I forgot to log in to post this reply.)

  • Re:yeah right! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by aardvarkjoe ( 156801 ) on Monday April 07, 2014 @12:33AM (#46680841)

    Really, this story is just "Some idiot injured someone, and is now lying to try to dodge legal responsibilities." This happens every day; it's just "news" to slashdot because he used the magic word "hack."

  • Re:Evolution (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Architect_sasyr ( 938685 ) on Monday April 07, 2014 @12:38AM (#46680865)
    Reads like bullshit anyway. Something went wrong, he throws up the "it wasn't me it must be those evil hackers" defence rather than accepting the blame for putting his device together poorly or letting it go out of range. There would be no way of knowing for sure if another device took control during the incident (because who would build that in to a home made UAV), so he *may* be telling the truth, but if it happened twice in one day either someone is out there deliberately hashing the channels to mess with everybody, or he just went out of range/did something wrong/etc.
  • by TubeSteak ( 669689 ) on Monday April 07, 2014 @01:00AM (#46680933) Journal

    It shouldn't matter if you knock out the control channel.
    Remote control [anything] should always be set up to fail in a "safe" manner, for various definitions of safe.

    Here's a picture of the aftermath, with someone picking up the hexacopter [yimg.com] and its pieces.
    The triathlete is on the ground with blood, if you're squeamish about that kind of thing.

  • by Jinker ( 133372 ) on Monday April 07, 2014 @01:24AM (#46681005) Homepage

    While learning to fly full scale airplanes it was drilled into me over and over, it is *always* the pilot/operators responsibility.

    You either screwed up, or failed to ensure you were using reliable equipment, or failed to account for uncertainties in how you operate it.

    Running what is essentially hobby hardware (radios, speed controls, batteries etc.) over top of people is just plain irresponsible.

    "Oh, but I haven't crashed before."

    Yeah, until you do.

  • Re:Evolution (Score:5, Insightful)

    by NoKaOi ( 1415755 ) on Monday April 07, 2014 @04:19AM (#46681597)

    Mobile phone 'could have been used to channel hop'

    Um, so pretty much doesn't that mean the drone was running on WiFi? So it was most likely simply interference, another device was trying to use the same channel has his device. Lesson 1: If you're going to operate a UAV over WiFi, check to make sure nothing else is on the channel. Lesson 2: If you're going to operate a UAV over WiFi, don't fly it where it could crash into somebody because you never know when another device is going to interfere with the channel you're using. Lesson 3: If something in the area interfered with it in the morning, don't fly it over humans without figuring out the interference.

    He said a full check was conducted and the device was taken elsewhere for a test flight, but he said no issues were detected.

    Which means whatever it was interfering with was in the area you were operating it in when it crashed, not the area where you tested it.

    Mr Abrams said an initial investigation had indicted that someone nearby "channel hopped" the device, taking control away from the operator.

    So somebody switched on their mobile hotspot and it was on the same channel as your UAV.

    The videographer added that there had been a similar incident when the drone was flown earlier in the day.

    Wow. Had this not happened I'd say the guy doesn't understand technical stuff (he's a photographer, not an IT guy) and that this was an unfortunate accident, but considering it happened earlier, he didn't consult with a technical person, and he still flew it over humans that's downright negligence and he should be responsible for the competitor's medical expenses, entry fee and any travel expenses. Perhaps even prosecuted for endangerment (either reckless endangerment or public endangerment, I think Australia has those laws similar to most US states).

"I'm not afraid of dying, I just don't want to be there when it happens." -- Woody Allen