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 newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags black hat

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

Cool Tech

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?