Making Drones Secure

Markets & Products / Why should I care? / September 1, 2016
Current-generation drones are imperiled by multiple security weaknesses. Is the semiconductor industry doing enough to address the problem?

Critics have accused drones of creating multiple dangers, including invading privacy, colliding with other aircraft, threatening personal safety and even frightening livestock. Yet the biggest drone threat of all may turn out to be attacks made on the vehicles themselves.

Radio control octocopter (Drone/ UAV) carrying SLR professional camera in the mid-air.

Drones, also known as UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) and UASs (unmanned aerial systems), need a variety of internal components to work effectively. The list includes MEMS (such as accelerometers, gyroscopes, magnetometers and pressure sensors), GPS modules, processors and digital radios. Together, these components tell a drone where to go, how to orient itself and how to avoid collisions, among other things. Yet many of these same components can also be exploited to wrest control away from a drone’s authorized operator or onboard navigation system.

“There’s a big variety of hardware modules, as well as supporting software and firmware that are used for different UAS configurations,” says Oleg Petrovsky, a senior research engineer at HP Enterprise Security Services. “Overall, each UAS has to have a flight controller, a receiver, electronic speed controllers, motors and, perhaps, a telemetry module. Each could be vulnerable to a number of physical and electronic type of attacks.”

Petrovsky notes that most drone microcontrollers use field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) to support their functionality. “These devices significantly increase the possible configuration complexity,” he says. “Of course, it opens the possibility of more flaws at the design and implementation stage.” In some instances, such flaws could be exploited by attackers in order to take unauthorized control over a hobby, commercial or military drone.

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Article from John Edwards, Semiconductor Engineering

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