- More than 10,000 unmanned aircraft are expected to be roving the skies by 2020 for search and rescue, power-line monitoring, scientific research and other uses that will become less costly than if the same tasks were carried out by humans.
- Swarms of drones traversing U.S. airspace pose elaborate security challenges that regulatory agencies are ill prepared to face. The Federal Aviation Administration's traditional role of keeping aircraft from colliding must be extended so that drones cannot be hacked.
- Technical steps need to be implemented to ensure that radio signals to guide and control the aircraft are made secure from being hacked or jammed by wrongdoers who wish to take over piloting of the aircraft, perhaps to use it as a weapon of terror.
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On August 2, 2010, a U.S. Navy helicopter wandered lazily into the skies of the highly restricted airspace that extends like an invisible dome over the American capital. The event might have merited nothing more than a routine log entry for air-traffic controllers at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, except for one disturbing detail. The helicopter had no human pilot. The aircraft had no cutout space for windows, and its cockpit was filled with nothing more than electronic instrumentation. It was a drone.
The MQ-8B Fire Scout, a 1,429-kilogram, 9.7-meter-long drone, had experienced what investigators later called a “software issue,” whereby its communications link had been severed with human operators, who sat helplessly in a ground-control room at Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland. To make matters worse, the drone failed to execute software instructions that would have forced it to return to its base. The Fire Scout, used for reconnaissance off warships, had wandered into the same airspace that Air Force One uses when it takes off from and lands at Andrews Air Force Base.
This article was originally published with the title Hacking Drones.