Are we ready for the drone revolution?

15 September 2015 by Adrienn Toth

In 2014, over ten thousand civilian drones were sold in the UK and future sales are predicted to increase rapidly. Despite recent legislation regarding privacy and aviation safety, there could still be unintended consequences should drones use become widespread, particularly around data theft and the use of data collected on drones as evidence in court.

Are drones secure?

As with any wireless device, drones can be commandeered or made uncontrollable by third parties. Data can be intercepted by third parties such as data thieves, authorities and hackers. According to white hat hacker Samy Kamkar, hijacking a drone is relatively simple. To prove his point, he adapted a Parrot AR drone, which is commonly used for taking aerial photographs and has video recording capability, and combined it with a Raspberry Pi system. By running his customised software, Kamkar was able to use his hacked drone to track down and control other Parrot drones.

Kamkar has since shared his software with the manufacturers so they can take steps to patch the security holes exploited but the exercise highlighted that drones are vulnerable and the data collected by a drone can be stolen. Until drone security develops and improves, commercial drone users should be cautious of collecting sensitive data via a drone.

Extracting evidence from drones

Should legal action result from the use of drones, for example, when data is stolen and a damages action follows or sensitive personal data is captured and penalties for breaching data protection law ensue, then the data captured by drones may need to be analysed and disclosed in legal proceedings

When faced with a drone a computer forensic expert called upon to extract data from it, would need to consider how the data is stored, whether or not it is encrypted and if it is hard to get to what other sources of the data can be tracked down. There is sometimes a lag between the release of a new device and the development of the tools able to access the data stored on them but often computer forensic experts are able to locate electronic evidence from new devices to support legal proceedings.

A changing legal climate

As drones grow in popularity, so too will the number of disputes regarding their use. Undoubtedly, drone guidelines, which are currently in their infancy, are likely to develop as the legislation evolves to encompass technological advancements. Any organisation, whose business can be affected by drones, whether positively or negatively, should make it a priority to keep abreast of legislation to best protect themselves from future legal action.