Congress warned about dangers of hacked drones

Posted by Emma Woollacott

US lawmakers yesterday heard that there needs to be more regulation and security surrounding the use of private drones.

Witnesses - including Todd Humphreys, the University of Texas professor who successfully hijacked such a drone last month - told a House subcommittee yesterday that it would be easy to take control of such drones and use them for terrorism.

Because such drones use unencrypted GPS information, they're vulnerable to spoofing, with hackers faking their own GPS signals to take control.

"What my nightmare scenario would be is looking forward three or four years where we have now adopted the UASs in the national airspace without addressing this problem - and now the problem is scaling up, so that we’ve got more heavy UASs, more capable UASs," he testified. 

It's the job of the FAA to ensure that UASs fly safely in US airspace. But no federal agency is developing the relevant policies and guidelines for their use, despite the fact that four years ago the Government Accountability Office recommended that the DHS examine the security implications of future, non-military UAS operations in the national airspace system and take any actions deemed appropriate.

"We still think that our recommendation is valid and needing to be addressed," testified Gerald Dillingham of the GAO.

The FAA has already granted more than 200 Certificates of Authority to operate drones to more than 100 entities. Those numbers are expected to reach the thousands within five years.

"DHS seems either disinterested or unprepared to step up to the plate to address the proliferation of drones, the potential threats they pose to our national security, and the concerns of our citizens of how drones flying over our cities will be used including protecting civil liberties of individuals under the Constitution," said the subcommittee chairman, Congressman Michael McCaul.

"What most Americans don’t want to see is eyes in the sky spying on the American people."