No need to shoot down drones! Many of them can now be hijacked

A researcher devised an attack against a popular wireless control protocol called DSMx

A security researcher has devised a method of hijacking a wide variety of radio- controlled airplanes, helicopters, cars, boats and other devices that use a popular wireless transmission technology.

The attack was developed by Jonathan Andersson, manager of the Advanced Security Research Group at Trend Micro DVLabs, and targets a "wideband, frequency-agile 2.4GHz signal protocol" called DSMx. This protocol is used in radio-control (R/C) toys, including in drones, that are owned by millions of users.

Andersson's attack exploits weaknesses in DSMx and was presented in detail Wednesday at the PacSec security conference in Tokyo. The researcher built a device that he dubbed Icarus, using off-the-shelf electronic components and software-defined radio (SDR). With it, he can take over the control of drones or other R/C devices and lock out their real owners in seconds.

The hijacking is possible because the various bits of secret information needed to pair a remote transmitter to a DSMx receiver can be extracted from the protocol or can be brute-forced, the researcher explained in his presentation. Furthermore, a timing vulnerability allows sending control packets before the legitimate transmitter, causing the receiver to ignore the latter.

Horizon Hobby, a global distributor and manufacturer of R/C products headquartered in Champaign, Illinois, which developed the DSMx technology, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Hobbyist R/C airplanes, helicopters and other flying drones are increasingly causing problems for manned aircraft and even for home owners who feel that their privacy is being invaded when these devices are flown close to their private property. There are certain no-fly areas for drones, for example near airports, but some users ignore these restrictions.

The rising number of drone sightings in no-fly areas and of near-miss incidents between drones and manned aircraft have led regulators in the U.S. and Europe to consider legislation that would restrict the use of such devices. It has also led to the development of commercial solutions for disabling in-flight drones. There have even been reports of people, including police, shooting down drones.

Hijacking drones and landing them safely instead of shooting them down and damaging them is a more elegant solution and could make possible trespassing investigations easier. Andersson noted in his presentation that his technique can also be used to passively monitor areas for unwanted drone activity and to record unique drone IDs that could later be used to identify their owners.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

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.

Lucian Constantin

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?