How to hack a drone: Researcher develops method to take control of consumer drones


posted Monday, October 31, 2016 at 10:30 AM EST


Jonathan Andersson, a security researcher for internet security company Trend Micro, has developed a method to take control of consumer-level drones mid-flight. The method involves hacking a remote control protocol used by many remote-operated devices called DSMx, convincing the drone that the hacker is in fact the proper controller. From that point the original controller loses all control of the drone, but the hacker can operate the drone as they desire.

The device, named "Icarus" by Mr. Andersson, also provides a unique signal that can be useful for positively identifying the drone. The intent of Icarus is to provide law enforcement with a more useful means to subdue drones that violate airspace regulations, and as well, a method for identifying their owners. Drones flying where they are not supposed to, and interfering with aircraft flights, is becoming an increasing problem in America, with the FAA reporting over 100 incidents per month.

At present, Icarus is not available for purchase, but with the cat out of the bag, it's probably only a matter of time before devices exploit the security weakness. The DSMx protocol is widely used by consumer-level remote-controlled planes, as the protocol is robust and has a long range. Unfortunately, in the piece with Ars Technica, Mr. Andersson noted that a fix may not be easy, as it could require a hardware update to the controller and the vehicle. Fortunately, many higher-end drones do not employ DSMx, such as the DJI Phantom.

(Seen via