03Jan 2018

Drones can be used for harm

Drone carrying contraband.jpg

In the past few years, UAS technologies have advanced considerably, making UAV’s cheap and easily accessible to the public. Modern commercial UAV’s have several characteristics that make them useful in various applications. Some unique characteristics of commercial drones are their payload carrying ability, ability to fly long flying distances and the ability to remotely control the drone from a long distance. As a result, drones are regularly used for inspecting inaccessible areas (like roofs), drop off food and supplies during natural disasters, survey damage during emergencies like the California wildfire, or capture HD videos for concerts and games from angles that were previously impossible to capture.

Read how drones are used for good around the world.

However the same characteristics that make a drone extremely useful, can also be used to do harm when in the wrong hands. And with commercial drones being easily accessible, anyone can buy a drone for a few hundred dollars and fly it anywhere with very limited restrictions.  

They can easily surpass traditional security barriers and can be hard to detect and track with the naked eye.

Drone surpassing security barriers

This makes UAV’s the perfect tool to:

  • Smuggle drugs, contraband and guns in prisons.
  • Drop dangerous payloads in crowds and stadiums.
  • Be used for surveillance.
  • Hack into datacenters
  • Spy on individuals.


  1. Smuggle drugs, contraband and guns in prisons.

Prisons around the world have seen a sharp increase in use of commercial drones to drop contraband like drugs, mobile phones, blades and other weapons in prison yards. In the past year, there have been numerous instances of drones smuggling in contraband for prisoners. The Georgia department of corrections recently intercepted a payload dropped by a drone. That payload contained 6lbs of marijuana.

If a drone can surpass a high security facility like a state prison and drop 6lbs of payload, then it can easily be used to drop other payloads that can cause harm to the public.

  1. Drop off payloads in crowds and stadiums.

Large crowds at events, festivals or sports stadiums are especially vulnerable if a drone drops a dangerous payload. UAV’s can easily surpass traditional security barriers like metal detectors, and bag checks leaving crowds exposed to an aerial threat.

Oversees, ISIS has regularly used modified drones to drop explosives on US and Iraqi soldiers. They also train their soldiers on how to modify commercial drones to carry and drop explosives. With terrorist attacks increasing in the US and around the world, the Department of Homeland Security warned that an aerial attack using a UAV is not just restricted to oversees warfare and could happen in the United States.

Recently, a man used a drone to unlawfully drop political flyers at the the 49ers vs Seahawks game at Levi’s Stadium and also at the Raiders game in Oakland. The ease with which he was able to drop flyers over two stadiums over a short period of time outlines the aerial threat that a drone can pose.  

  1. Be used for surveillance.

UAV’s can fly far distances and can cruise at high altitudes making them hard to detect or track. Therefore they can be used to survey restricted areas and gather intelligence. A drone could easily map out the security detail at an event or a prison, or observe behaviors over several days.

Drones can also be used to capture images or videos of the latest BMW 3 Series track tests and leaking that information or capturing videos and images on the set of Game of Thrones to reveal plot lines, all of which can cost organizations a lot of money.

  1. Hack into Datacenters.

Skilled specialists can easily modify a drone to carry a cell phone or a Raspberry Pi, transforming the drone into a “computer that can fly”. This drone can be used to hover close to corporate offices, try and detect unsecured connections, capture keystrokes, or even capture images and videos that could result in corporate espionage.

There have been instances where a drone picked up an unsecure printer connection and was able to intercept a file that was sent to the printer. In another study, researchers were able to infect a computer with malware, and transmit data through LED lights on the CPU to a drone hovering outside the window.

  1. Spying on individuals.

Since most drones come equipped with powerful cameras, they can be used as tools to help spy on others and invade their privacy. Celebrities, VIP’s and Executives are particularly prone to being targets of spying drones trying to invade privacy.

This is also a problem for college campuses and universities, where peeping toms can easily fly a drone next to a window or dorm and spy on an individual. Or even spy on classrooms to steal tests etc.


In order to reduce the malicious use of drones, FAA has some regulations in place like “no fly zones” and the drone registration law. However it is difficult for Law Enforcement to enforce these laws proactively since it is hard to detect a UAV high up in the sky. Law enforcement can only react when an incident occurs.

DJI, one of the biggest UAV manufacturers recently equipped all their drones with a “no fly zone” list. A DJI drone detects that it is in a “no fly zone” and can stop working when in a “no fly zone” area. However, simple modification to a DJI drone can ensure that this “no fly zones” feature can be easily bypassed. Also a pilot can custom build his drone and still able to fly through “no fly zones” unrestricted.

With the number of drones in the air rising everyday, and more organizations employing drones for legitimate good uses, it begs some questions that need answering. How can we manage our airspace to know if a drone is good or bad? How can we keep the good drones in and the bad drones out? And is there a way to detect, track and stop rogue drones that enter our facility?