Drones have potential for industrial sabotage

The unmanned aircraft could be used to interfere with a facility’s computers and other equipment, a researcher said

Industrial facilities should be on guard against drones. Even off-the-shelf versions of the unmanned aircraft could be used to disrupt sensitive systems.

On Wednesday, Jeff Melrose, a presenter at Black Hat 2016, showed how consumer drones could do more than just conduct aerial spying. The flying machines can also carry a transmitter to hack into a wireless keyboard or interfere with industrial controls, he said.

It’s not enough to place a fence around a building to keep intruders out, according to Melrose, who is a principal tech specialist at Yokogawa, an industrial controls provider. These days, some consumer drones can travel up to 3 miles (4.8 kilometers) or more.

“Drones can tailgate workers easily as people now,” he added. “Many drones can navigate inside buildings.”

That makes them a potential security risk. A hacker could easily pilot one and land it on a building’s roof to secretly conduct surveillance through the onboard camera, he said.

In addition, the machines could interfere with a facility’s computers and other equipment. Melrose has been testing this possibility with DJI Phantom drones, which can be bought for US$500 or more.

He noted that many consumer drones can carry a small payload of a few kilograms or enough to haul a transmitter. That transmitter could be used to jam or send radio transmissions.

Melrose tested this by fitting a drone with a 20 feet-long tether that hauled the transmitter through the air. He found that it could easily hover over a target or follow a moving object while the transmitter operated.

The danger is that a drone could send off enough electromagnetic interference to disrupt the wireless networks controlling important utilities, he said. In the past, naval radar systems have done just that and accidentally forced pipelines to malfunction or burst.

Cybercriminals could also use a drone’s transmitter to hack into wireless keyboards or mice by exploiting the “MouseJack” vulnerability, a problem found up to 100 meters away in peripherals made by Microsoft, Logitech, Dell and others.  

“Which is why we told a lot of our customers to get wired keyboards,” Melrose added.

He’s advising that industrial facilities consider incorporating more redundancies in their wireless networks to prevent interference. The security guards on site should also be watchful for drones that might be hovering nearby or snooping over a rooftop.

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags black hat

More about DellLogitechMicrosoftYokogawa

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Michael Kan

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    IDG Live Webinar:The right collaboration strategy will help your business take flight

    Speakers - Mike Harris, Engineering Services Manager, Jetstar - Christopher Johnson, IT Director APAC, 20th Century Fox - Brent Maxwell, Director of Information Systems, THE ICONIC - IDG MC/Moderator Anthony Caruana

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts