Drones have potential for industrial sabotage

The unmanned aircraft could be used to interfere with a facility’s computers and other equipment, a researcher said

Industrial facilities should be on guard against drones. Even off-the-shelf versions of the unmanned aircraft could be used to disrupt sensitive systems.

On Wednesday, Jeff Melrose, a presenter at Black Hat 2016, showed how consumer drones could do more than just conduct aerial spying. The flying machines can also carry a transmitter to hack into a wireless keyboard or interfere with industrial controls, he said.

It’s not enough to place a fence around a building to keep intruders out, according to Melrose, who is a principal tech specialist at Yokogawa, an industrial controls provider. These days, some consumer drones can travel up to 3 miles (4.8 kilometers) or more.

“Drones can tailgate workers easily as people now,” he added. “Many drones can navigate inside buildings.”

That makes them a potential security risk. A hacker could easily pilot one and land it on a building’s roof to secretly conduct surveillance through the onboard camera, he said.

In addition, the machines could interfere with a facility’s computers and other equipment. Melrose has been testing this possibility with DJI Phantom drones, which can be bought for US$500 or more.

He noted that many consumer drones can carry a small payload of a few kilograms or enough to haul a transmitter. That transmitter could be used to jam or send radio transmissions.

Melrose tested this by fitting a drone with a 20 feet-long tether that hauled the transmitter through the air. He found that it could easily hover over a target or follow a moving object while the transmitter operated.

The danger is that a drone could send off enough electromagnetic interference to disrupt the wireless networks controlling important utilities, he said. In the past, naval radar systems have done just that and accidentally forced pipelines to malfunction or burst.

Cybercriminals could also use a drone’s transmitter to hack into wireless keyboards or mice by exploiting the “MouseJack” vulnerability, a problem found up to 100 meters away in peripherals made by Microsoft, Logitech, Dell and others.  

“Which is why we told a lot of our customers to get wired keyboards,” Melrose added.

He’s advising that industrial facilities consider incorporating more redundancies in their wireless networks to prevent interference. The security guards on site should also be watchful for drones that might be hovering nearby or snooping over a rooftop.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags black hat

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Michael Kan

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?