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This article was published on March 3, 2016

    $40 hack shows why we should never allow police drones to be armed

    $40 hack shows why we should never allow police drones to be armed
    Ben Woods
    Story by

    Ben Woods

    Europe Editor

    Ben is a technology journalist with a specialism in mobile devices and a geeky love of mobile spectrum issues. Ben used to be a professional Ben is a technology journalist with a specialism in mobile devices and a geeky love of mobile spectrum issues. Ben used to be a professional online poker player. You can contact him via Twitter or on Google+.

    According to experts presenting at the RSA Conference in the US this week, Dutch police drones are vulnerable to being hacked by little more than a smidgen of knowledge and a $40 of easily obtainable parts.

    The researcher, Nils Rodday, says that the Xbee telemetry module fitted to the drone (that lets it communicate at a greater distance than is possible with a normal drone) is crucial in taking control of the devices.

    Essentially, he explains that by hacking the Wi-Fi connection of the drone’s user, he can then transmit commands to the drone so it will do pretty much whatever he wants. If the connection didn’t use a protocol with known vulnerabilities, Rodday says it would be a trickier prospect.

    Vulnerabilities in drones that cost up to $20,000 each isn’t something that any police force would want to be losing control of, so let’s just hope Dutch police don’t go the way of the US in allowing the use of armed drones. That really could be a terrible prospect combined with the relatively easy hack.

    It’s pretty unlikely that the Dutch police knew the drones are vulnerable to remote hacking, but in a twist of bizarre foresight, at least they’ve already been training eagles for war on drones.

    Update March 10 – The manufacturer of the Xbee module got in touch to say that the drone maker had decided not to activate the chip’s encryption capabilities. 

    Read next: A drone could take out a plane before the UK works out how to police our decentralized sky