Drone hijackings on police radar

Airborne interception. Pic: iStock


Criminals using drones, quadcoptors and other unmanned aerial systems to avoid detection by police and law enforcement will soon find their new toys hijacked to provide evidence against them if an ASX-listed technology developer and exported gets its way.

As prison authorities, drug agencies and police try to get to grips with criminals and gangs flying everything from drugs and weapons over prison walls, ominously named company Department 13 (D13) has launched a new “Drone Intelligence and Forensic Service” it says will give prison, border control and drug enforcement authorities a critical upper hand.

The plummeting price and increased sophistication of ‘off-the-shelf’ drones has created a huge new challenge for authorities when they fall into the wrong hands.

One of the biggest problems is that remotely operated small aircraft, by their very nature, create an invaluable distance between their illegal operators and authorities, thus allowing arm’s length delivery of illicit goods or an early warning for when cops are approaching or about to pounce.

Amateur drones, which often fly outside of aviation regulatory boundaries, have also become a growing nuisance at events with tight security like political rallies, major sporting events and festivals.

While authorities can obviously just whack drones out of the sky, Department 13 reckons it’s the sophisticated electronics inside their software that can give law enforcement a far more valuable window into who’s using the technology and what they’re up to – without resorting to ballistics or jammers that can blow an operation’s cover.

Low barrier to entry. Pic: Zully3P

“It’s critical that we understand the complete lifecycle of how adversaries fulfil their illicit missions using drones. Until we understand all of the available data about drones used for these illicit purposes we will be at a distinct disadvantage to our criminal adversaries,” said Department 13 chief executive Jonathan Hunter.

Known as MESMER, the system uses snooping and surveillance software that Department 13 says “provides automated detection and finessed mitigation strategies that can be selected to function autonomously or with a man in the loop.”

Put more simply that means drone sniffers can be actively monitored by people or left for days at a time to detect, record and drone activity. Government News understands that extends to covertly grabbing a feed from a drone’s camera,

Of course, it would be nicer if you could, after gathering enough evidence, just take the drone over and safely bring it back to you or down in a safe place. After all, with UAV and autonomous vehicle ‘takeover’ now all the rage in the military –call it digital hijacking – why shouldn’t law enforcement authorities also get a slice of the action?

Department 13’s official release seems to obscure that potent capability a little, referring to a “response stage” that’s based “on a technique that we call, protocol manipulation.” But it’s similarly understood that the remote take-over capability for drones is well advanced and being developed to deal with multiple targets or ‘swarms’ at once.

A post from D13’s founder and CTO, Robi Sen, on the company’s website pulls fewer punches.

In an examination of how lithium batteries that power drones can catch fire both in mid-air or on crash landing, Sen points out that just bringing down drones in an uncontrolled manner is a potentially deadly risk in itself – especially in urban areas.

“Department 13 staff when assisting law enforcement in performing forensics on drones always [insists] on storing crashed or recovered drone’s batteries in protective and fire proof containers to prevent accidents and injury, Sen says.


“It is also why we designed our Mesmer platform to maintain positive control of target drones to avoid creating hazardous situations that result from crashed drones.”

Mind you, the Dutch National Police also have an eagle eye on drone control via interception, but using an avian solution. They’re training majestic eagles to swoop, capture and return target drones as part of a trial.



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