Drone Hijacking Threat Remains Unanswered

Congress examines dangers posed by UAVs.



Last month a team of University of Texas researchers spoofed an Adaptive Flight Hornet Mini drone, putting it on a crash course with the ground thanks to some advanced software that allowed the team to trick the craft’s GPS receiver.

The spoof was part of a Department of Homeland Security test aimed at exposing the dangers posed by the growing use of drones, and served as proof that drones can be tricked via GPS hijacking, something suspected, amongst other possibilities, during the recent U.S. drone capturing in Iran.

Members of the House of Representatives mulled over that threat and other concerns on Thursday during a Homeland Security subcommittee oversight hearing on the rising use of drones in the U.S.

Congress recently enacted legislation that will open up American skies to drones in less than three years, and the FAA predicts within the next five years approximately 10,000 civilian drones will operate within the country. How those drones will interact with piloted aircraft, however, and how they will be regulated and monitored, are yet to be seen.

During the recent hearing, Department of Homeland Security officials refused to testify, maintaining the civilian use of drones isn’t part of their jurisdiction, according to representative Michael McCaul (R-Texas). Another representative, Yvette Clark (D-N.Y.) expressed similar disappointment, stating the DHS’s absence from the hearing was “not acceptable.”

One of the University of Texas researchers, however, spoke to lawmakers about his team’s experiment, and the threat posed by using drones that rely on unprotected GPS signals.

Gerald Dillingham, from the Government Accountability Office, echoed that concern, stating GPS signals that can be bought online for as little as $50 could be used to spoof a civilian drone.

In addition to the threat of drone hijacking, lawmakers also discussed privacy concerns surrounding the use of UAVs.

As Congress continues the drone debate, the FAA is reportedly crafting a proposed rule on small UAS, to be released at a yet-to-be determined date later this year.