The drone market has grown significantly over the last few years, penetrating different verticals and serving a number of uses. According to Grand View Research, the global commercial drone market size was valued at USD 13.44 billion in 2020 and is expected to expand at a CAGR of 57.5 percent from 2021 to 2028. Sectors like emergency response, construction, security monitoring, and entertainment are significant drivers of this growth.
The number of drone companies worldwide has also increased, although many may be sourcing products from white-label manufacturers. Such growth has created a fertile field for security threats.
About three weeks ago, Flights at UK’s East Midlands Airport were diverted, and a runaway was closed on Friday night after drones were sighted nearby. Thousands of flights had to be canceled when a pair of drones were seen over Gatwick Airport in 2018. Earlier this year, a drone attack
on an airport in Saudi Arabia resulted in civilians getting injured. Dubai airport also has reported drone attacks this year.
The growth of these attacks and their severity have heightened the risks and the need to act against them. Drones are increasingly accessible to almost anybody, and in the hands of the wrong people, it gives unprecedented power. The biggest problem is that traditional security measures cannot stop a drone attack. Your perimeter security systems and surveillance cameras are no longer useful tools against this threat. Preventing drone attacks requires a systematic process using integrated anti-drone solutions.
Threats are set to grow, but laws to get stricter
As threats grow, there is a growing awareness of the need to counter them. In a recent post, Jackson Markey, head of aviation at Dedrone, pointed out that the ever-increasing threat would prompt authorities to come up with stricter regulations
that would ensure security.
“We predict that the laws protecting airports against unauthorized drones will strengthen,” Markey noted. “Stronger laws will give police more power to apprehend pilots of unauthorized drones while at the same time, drone analytics will be used to provide evidence against the pilots and complete criminal cases. Rapid response is key to catching these pilots, and in 2022, more and more airports will finally acquire the technology to do so.”
But the fact that drones are still relatively new technology limit the scope of standardized regulations across the globe. There are several kinds of counter-drone solutions, but there is no consensus on which is the best for airport security. For example, Markey pointed out that using options like jamming, which severs the communication between the drone and remote control, is currently a hot topic worldwide, but in the US, drone mitigation using such techniques is not allowed due to potential collateral damage.
Beyond airports to other critical infrastructure
Increased awareness of drone threats to airports may soon prompt authorities to take stricter measures. But other verticals need attention too. In a recent post, Axis Communication’s Peter Dempsey pointed out that Data Centers are at an increased risk
of drone attacks.
“As data centers increasingly provide the infrastructure that underpins daily digital lives, monitoring operations and guaranteeing high levels of security is a critical capability,” Dempsey wrote. “Personnel are under growing pressure to guard against threats both physical and cyber in nature. Any disruption to operations could prove catastrophic, with periods of downtime having significant cost implications and causing massive disruption to the people and businesses that now rely so heavily on a seamless transfer of data.”
In July 2020, a drone with two 4-foot nylon ropes dangled from its rotors and a thick copper wire connected to the ends with electrical tape approached a Pennsylvania power substation. Authorities believe its intention was to “disrupt operations by creating a short circuit.”
Earlier this year, Sweden reported drone sightings over critical sites, including a nuclear power station, prompting authorities to take pre-emptive action. The list would go on, as these UAVs can reach almost anywhere if proper anti-drone systems are not in place.
Detect, identify, analyze and mitigate
The growing threat of drones demands more decisive action using effective technology. Dempsey pointed out that the process of stopping a drone requires detecting, identifying, analyzing the reasons for its presence, and then stopping it. At times, a drone could be just a genuine mistake of the pilot not realizing they are operating over a no-drone zone.
“Of course, where an incident is verified, swift identification is imperative to aid early decision making,” Dempsey added. “Drone detection software, capable of sending a signal to a PTZ (pan/tilt/zoom) camera, can be used to lock on to and track the movements of a drone, with crystal clear imagery used to ascertain the substance of its payload to distinguish friend from foe. This could include, for example, a biological weapon or even a device which might be used by hackers to attempt to infiltrate the data center’s systems to cause disruption or capture lucrative data.”
Beyond physical security threats
While physical security may seem like the biggest concern that drones create, cybersecurity fears are not far behind. In fact, a cybersecurity breach could lead to a physical security threat. For example, Kaspersky points out that there are many ways through which drones can be hacked and hijacked
“Once the drone has been located, a hacker can potentially take control of the drone, or downlink video or other images which the drone is broadcasting to its base station,” the company said in a post. “Hacking a drone isn't technically very difficult, and many drone operators leave their drones wide open to attack.”
This means that any attempt to mitigate drone threats should also consider the cybersecurity angle. Drone users should also remain aware that hackers can access their machines. The company suggests several tips, including keeping the firmware updated, using strong passwords, using a VPN, ensuring mobile phones connected to drones are not hacked, etc. A combination of physical and cyber measures can go a long way in dealing with drone threats as a whole.