Drone Use Increases During Pandemic But May Come at a Cost

Laura BednarCybersecurityLeave a Comment

Drone Delivery Security Issues

Many companies both restaurants and commercial retailers have implemented no contact delivery in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, some have decided to take it one step further and have been using drones to make deliveries to homes and in some cases, to hospitals. The drones do offer the least amount of contact by simply dropping the package at the destination without human interaction. While this may be a healthier way to delivery during the pandemic, there are safety and privacy concerns that may push back the development of drones after the health crisis has passed.

Drone Usage During COVID-19

Drones have been used in several instances before the pandemic including the early stages of package delivery, taking photos from a bird’s eye view, and monitoring a field of crops on a farm. Since the pandemic hit, people across the globe have found new uses for this developing technology. In China, they are using drones for the following:

  • Overseeing urban areas so officers can broadcast a message to wear a mask or stay inside if there is an infected area. It also keeps officers from interacting with infected people.
  • Spraying large amounts of disinfectant on a hard surface area from above
  • Checking people’s body temperature with built-in infrared cameras to find those with a high fever who may be infected.
  • Delivering supplies to residents and hospitals.

The drone company Matternet has been using their M2 model drone to deliver medicine from pharmacies to elderly people and has delivered medical specimens to hospitals. Other drone companies around the world have also been utilizing this technology to deliver testing kits and defibrillators to people during the pandemic. Even coffee shops have started to use drones to send refreshments to people during quarantine.

Physical Safety and Privacy Concerns with Drones

Though it seems that these airborne delivery systems are having a positive effect on the communities, they also put people’s physical safety as well as their privacy at risk. A drone uses frequencies between the device and a controller to determine flying patterns.

Physical Flaws

Security researchers have found flaws in the drone system with a lack of strong encryption or in some cases, no encryption at all. This means a malicious attacker could hack drones by intercepting the frequency and bypassing the non-existent or weak encryption. One researcher used a software-defined radio combined with a microcomputer and other electronic equipment to gain control of the drone.

In one instance, an error on the GPS hardware resulted in the device deploying its parachute, but the strings to the chute were severed and the drone fell to the ground, a few hundred feet from a group of children playing outdoors. A more serious scenario would be a hacker gaining access to a fleet of drones after gaining access to the main commercial system if connected to the internet.

Privacy Regulations

While this is a physical safety issue, if a drone is hacked and controlled by a malicious party, the medical specimens and other sensitive materials will be in the hands of someone who could potentially sell that data on the dark web. In the United States, anyone with an unmanned aircraft system must register the device with the Federal Aviation Administration. Even so, they are required to obtain a permit every time they fly over a group of people, like in urban areas.

That’s why the federal government is working on requiring remote identification for drones that gives the drone the ability to provide ID information that other parties can receive. Government leaders would then know when a drone is flying in their area or if it was flying in a no-fly zone.

Protecting Data and Lives as Delivery Methods Progress

While remote identification would help governments locate drones, it would also make it easier for a hacker to locate the drone if they planned to cause havoc. Some companies have adopted open-source code because it receives more scrutiny than closed source but it also makes it easier for an attacker to identify vulnerabilities. Stronger encryption on drones means more power must be built into the drone, resulting in higher costs and less power for the drone to fly.

There have been some proposed solutions to balancing the risks of drones and their delivering methods, but they have a long way to go before there is widespread adoption. Secure Data puts data security first in everything we do, like using hardware encrypted data storage to return your data after a recovery case is completed.

These HIPAA compliant and FIPS-validated storage devices have unique authentication methods to keep sensitive information in the right hands and can be used in any industry. Learn more about our secure storage and other data security products and services by calling 1-800-875-3230.