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August 20, 2015

Drone hacking is the next big threat

C-level briefing: Dave Hrycyszyn, founder of Head London, talks drone policy and the real threats posed by flying devices.

By Joao Lima

They have been used to spy and bomb targets in conflict zones like Afghanistan and Pakistan, but today we are seeing drone military technology being given to consumers.

Dave Hrycyszyn, founder and head of technology at Head London, spoke about the drone past, present and future in CBR’s first ever exclusive drone interview.

"Drone policy in the US and the UK are both quite disturbing and I wish drones had not come from those places [military research]."

Hrycyszyn made the statement worried that the use of the technology over the last few years as a weapon has damaged people’s perception of the "great things drones can do".

"The basic technology [of drones] is military; was funded by military. But now we know how to do it, and we can use that for civilian applications."

Drone hijacking

Following the military concerns, Hrycyszyn took on the commercial side of drones and how their biggest advantage – flying – could turn out to be a serious security issue to people all over the world.

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"I would think of drone hijacking as being the possible big deal. Imagine that Amazon in a few years has 100,000 drones running deliveries all over the place and the system is working well. What does an exploit at that point mean? Does someone take control of the Amazon drone fleet?

"When we talk about things that can affect the physical world, the security problem becomes quite different."

This concerning futuristic vision would only last for a few minutes, as Hrycyszyn explained that probably the drone fleet would need to be refuelled shortening the time gap hackers would have to carry out an attack.

"But for a few minutes someone could have tens of thousands of drones under their control [in a science fiction scenario] and they could probably do some crazy things with them, with that kind of security attack."

Hrycyszyn believes that until we reach a level were civilian drones are safe and well adapted for commercial use, there will be some "spectacular failures". "Something will screw up somewhere; someone will do a mistake."

However, the head of technology did not have an answer on what gives someone the right to control a drone in the US from London, for example.

"The civilian technology is in its infancy and it is not clear at all how these concerns are ultimately going to be addressed or socially where the balance is going to be.

"This technology is going to be very difficult to control in those aspects of things."

Privacy to change dramatically

Hijacking a drone is not the only problem with the devices, as privacy discussions also need to take place between industry bodies. Just like in the IoT space, Hrycyszyn said that concerns surrounding privacy are a major preoccupation.

The head of technology explained that if analysts’ predictions of billions of deployed sensors all over the world become a reality, "the whole nature of privacy as we understand it for the last couple of hundred years in our society will change".

"There is no way we can enforce privacy controls in an automated surveillance environment like that, it is a huge concern and a real problem.

"What worries me the most is the ubiquitousness that is everywhere and we cannot avoid it. If we are going to instrument the physical world with all these sensors, I find that really problematic."

Drones will reshape society

Breaking the privacy discussion, Hrycyszyn explained that drones are a different kind of IoT. "They are a kind of extension of the IoT into the physical world in the way that the ‘thing’ can move around, that is the main difference between drones and other IoT applications."

He focused on the benefits the flying devices can have in the future and used a computer mouse to exemplify how much change drones can eventually make to everyone’s lives.

"In the 1970s people would go to the Apple store to play with the mouse and that is the stage we are at with drones. What the mouse did for us was to write a different class of applications that reacted to our hand and ultimately that gave us Photoshop, for example."

He continued saying that the mouse fundamentally restructured our cities and our social space, such as with advertisements we see or the way we project buildings with design software programs.

"All of these things come from that innovation of the mouse, and I think that drones will probably have a similar or greater effect on our cities and society than the mouse did."

Despite being in their "infancy", Hrycyszyn believes we are starting to see the first applications of these things, and the first ones that are being useful to people.

"I think of drones as an extension of surveillance capabilities in the same way the military initially used drones for air strikes."

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