Beware the Drones!

As I stood, slightly hunched, fighting the gravitational pull from the endless hours of working the conference show floor, I became aware of the ever-increasing volume of buzzing, as if a swarm of bald-faced hornets were swiftly descending from the structural beams supporting the roof of McLean Bible Church. I wasn’t alone in my wonderment. The buzzing increased in proximity and volume. Fellow conference exhibitors sprang to their fatigued feet, like red kangaroo’s in an Australian desert, also trying to catch a glimpse of the audibly hissing culprit. We realized that all of the “buzz” was about an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), or more commonly known as a drone. It was fascinating. The Ritz-cracker shaped, battery-operated toy was cautiously yet expertly transporting vendor sponsored, attendee “prize patrol” giveaways including gift cards and t-shirts. It was being piloted by our conference host technology director.

Today’s drones come in all shapes, sizes and costs. Multimillion-dollar military drones now resemble sleek aircraft once only seen in futuristic sci-fi movies. Commercial drones can cost thousands of dollars, such as those used in the agriculture industry, hovering high above crops, giving farmers a vivid picture of their fields. On the other hand, recreational mini quadcopters can be purchased for under $50.

As size and use of drones varies significantly, so does the potential new threats they pose. Recently, the FBI warned that drones could soon be weaponized to facilitate chemical or biological attacks on stadiums, concerts and other open-air venues. Due to the realistic likelihood of these attacks and additional surveillance worries, drones have been banned over national landmarks, nuclear sites, military bases and many other government facilities.

But we should take personal security precautions. Like most technology, drones have operating systems, network connections and hardware that is susceptible to hacking and cyber mischief. Drone captured video footage and images can be compromised: captured drone camera recording can be turned against an owner.

Here are a couple of precautionary tips when purchasing or flying a drone:

1. When remotely controlling a drone from a smartphone, make sure that the phone has proper mobile security software installed. Like the high-profiled Apple’s FaceTime bug, phones and other connected devices are vulnerable to exploits.

2. When flying your drone, be aware of your location and avoid flying in unsecured networks. Connecting your controls to open and vulnerable networks can result in similar consequences to laptops connecting to an open wi-fi networks.

3. Be aware of your physical surroundings. Civil and criminal penalties for flying your drone in a “no fly” zone can carry fines up to $250,000 and 3 years in prison.

4. Purchase your drone from a reputable retailer. Otherwise, you won’t know what else was pre-installed with it or the whereabouts of its parts.

Flying drones is fun. It allows adults to have a toy again. I’m less adventurous. Lately, my “adventure” escape from the ever-changing, fast-paced security industry, has been the discovery of audiobooks. I am thrilled to say that I have been “reading” more, especially spy novels! (I hope you appreciated my attempt at a Michael Connelly-style introduction to the article.) so, if drones are your thing, stay alert to what all the buzz is about.