Drones and Security → Impact on Corporate Security?

April 10, 2015 - By Sonny Schürer

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Last year, we wrote about drones and corporate security, where we talked about the rise of commercial drones, their potential uses for non-military purposes, and what it could mean for the future of corporate security.

So, where do we stand, over six months later? The second half of 2014 has seen a dramatic rise in security concerns linked to drones: from multiple intrusions at high-security locations, to growing sales of commercial devices, legislation issues, and companies and governments scrambling to find defensive measures to counteract drones.

Let’s have a look at what has changed, what the threats are, and how companies and individuals can protect themselves.

Drones: From potential to concrete security threat

There’s been a sharp increase in drone-related security issues over the past few months. Their popularity, as well as their availability, means that almost anyone—well intentioned or not— can purchase a UAV. Here’s a quick recap of the most significant security breaches in 2014 and 2015:

  • In January 2015, a small quadcopter—which can easily be purchased on Amazon—breached the White House grounds, evaded security measures, and was caught only after it crashed. Thankfully, the pilot was using the drone recreationally and had no ill intentions.
  • Since November 2014, unidentified drones have been flying over sensitive locations in France. Critical infrastructures such as nuclear sites have been scouted, as well as the U.S. Embassy in Paris, the Invalides military museum, the Eiffel Tower, and the Elysée Palace. A handful of culprits have been caught—some of them were journalists—but the vast majority of those drones (and their pilots) remain unidentified.
  • There have been numerous near-collisions with aircrafts over multiple airports, such as the now-famous incident with an Airbus A320 at Heatrow. Near-collisions and illegal drone flights have been recorded in places such as Dubai, the U.S., the U.K, and many European countries.
  • In February 2015, three BBC journalists have been questioned by Swiss police for breaching security protocols and illegally flying a drone over the World Economic Forum in Davos.
  • Drones have been used by fans and paparazzi to spy on the set of the new Star Wars movie, forcing the producers and crew to invest in anti-drone technology in order to secure the area.
  • There have been nearly a dozen reported cases of drones being used to smuggle contraband in and out of prisons, as well as across borders. These incidents have been limited to North America so far, but there’s no doubt the same techniques have been (or will be) used elsewhere.

Drone legislation: A work-in-progress

Given the situation, legislations has become crucial in order for corporations and privacy/security-minded individuals to protect themselves, and for businesses to use drones in a responsible manner. Unfortunately, the current situation is pretty chaotic, and legislationscan vary wildly depending on the country.

In the U.S., bills are being passed or shot down depending on the state. At the federal level, the FAA has been working towards better regulations. They have begun streamlining their process to expedite Section 333 UAS exemption grants, have just awarded Amazon’s UAS design an airworthiness certificate and, as of March 2015, will grant broad airspace authorization to unmanned aircraft users flying at or below 200 feet.

In Europe, the European Commission has been working on Europe-wide regulations since early 2014, but the actual limits and rules vary from country to country. France has advanced drone regulations in place and has the largest number of drone operators (1,600 companies) in Europe. In the U.K., laws are already in place (e.g. drones are seen as “aircrafts”, not toys) and there are limits on weight for commercial use. The rules are different even within Scandinavia itself, with different weight limits and permits needed to fly drones commercially.

In short: no matter where you look, the situation is still complicated and, at best, evolving. It’s difficult for companies to adapt to this unstable landscape, but there’s no doubt that places like France and the U.K. have some of the most advanced legislations out there. Other governments are catching up, but it might be another couple of years before drones are properly regulated.

A danger to both executives and corporations

The security industry has begun taking drones into account when it comes to providing protection. The threats are too credible to be ignored: we’ve seen a drone land right in front of Angela Merkel during a 2013 campaign event. Drones photographed Tina Turner’s wedding. In January 2014, a U.S. senator publicly spoke about a drone that peeked into the window of her home.

Some of the most tangible threats are:

  • Celebrities and executives can be spied on from the air, which means that their activities and movements (e.g. a target’s car) can be tracked in real-time. This is not only a huge security risk, but also a breach of privacy.
  • Sensitive locations (clients’ residences, private properties, offices, stadiums, public venues, etc…) can be scouted by drones and intelligence can be gathered, which could reveal weaknesses in the security arrangement and leave a site vulnerable to attacks.
  • Public locations are also at risk in a more direct manner: drones could crash into crowds, unload explosives, or deliver weapons that could then be used by a “receiver” on the ground.
  • When it comes to corporate and industrial espionage, nefarious entities may use to drones to capture footage and recordings, since many UAVs are equipped with HD cameras, infrared cameras, or long-range microphones.
  • The latest spy drones are capable of hacking into Wi-Fi networks (for example, by landing on a company’s roof) and sniffing information. There have been reports of amateur drones being able to crack Wi-Fi-encryption and even intercept phone calls and text messages.

Countermeasures and protection

Until last year, many of the tactics employed by security pros and governments were passive. For example, detecting and identifying drones with microphones and radars allowed security services to relocate their clients, change their security setup, or alert a company before any damage could be done.

Thankfully, and unsurprisingly, the anti-drone industry is booming, and more and more countermeasures are now available. Let’s look at a few:

  • Detection and monitoring: those two measures are the foundations upon which anti-drone technology is built. After all, if you can’t locate a drone, you can’t protect yourself from it. Detection relies on small radars, cameras, and devices installed on residences or around specific perimeters. Once a drone is detected, the security system can warn the security team via email, SMS, sounding an alarm, or in some cases alerting local law enforcement. One of the most popular detection tools is the Drone Shield, but there are many more out there.
  • Active responses: hunter drones allow companies to “fight fire with fire”. These UAV models—such as the Rapere quadcopter or the Interceptor MP200—are equipped with various means to take down an enemy drone. The Rapere navigates via cameras and can entangle an enemy drone’s rotors with wires. The Interceptor uses a net to force its target to crash. There is also a third model in development, a “kamikaze” drone developed by Malou Tech, which would simply slam into another UAV to bring it down. Ballistic technology also exists to shoot drones down—but that type of equipment is mostly used by governments so far.
  • Geo-fencing and no-fly zones: many geo-fencing tools exist, which send signals to create aerial “barriers” that drones are not allowed to fly over. Unfortunately, fencing may only work with a limited number of drone hardware/software, and can be bypassed by dedicated drone operators. No-fly zones are more effective, as they combine both geo-fencing and more active measures (e.g. nets, ballistics) to both locate and bring down any intruder.
  • Jamming: radio frequency jamming remains illegal in some countries (the U.S. in particular) but is still commonly used for lack of better options. While geo-fencing simply sends a message to drones telling them not to fly over a particular location, jamming actively aims to disrupt or interrupt a drone’s signals, causing the operator to lose control of the UAV and rendering it useless.

At AS Solution, we’re very aware of the risks posed by drones, and take great interest in protecting our clients from this new threat. Remember to follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Linkedin for security-related updates—and for any update on developments in the world of drones.

Sonny Schürer

Senior Vice President

Sonny has helped manage AS Solution since its founding in 2003. A leading member of The Danish Trade Organization for Safety and Security and an active member of ASIS, Sonny has extensive experience in executive protection, event security, investigations and maritime security.

As a member of AS Solution’s management team, Sonny heads the company’s European operations from its Copenhagen-based European headquarters. Sonny has also overseen the development and growth of AS Solution’s anti-piracy services, Scandinavia’s largest maritime security service with operations worldwide.