Privacy and drones: how they could hack your information

Privacy and drones: how they could hack your information

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SALT LAKE CITY — With drones or quadcopters becoming easily available, a familiar concern faces our society: how do we protect our privacy and personal data?

Drones can now be outfitted with their own Wi-Fi network. When a drone flies over a neighborhood it can act like honey and home Wi-Fi networks are the bees. The drone tricks them into connecting with its open network and then any information transferred on the home’s Wi-Fi could be available to the drone’s operator.

In a recent NBC Chicago story, penetration tester Parker Schmitt and robot expert David Jordan showed how easily drones can be used to hack. It’s a case of attaching a small computer then simply flying it over a residential area full of home WiFi networks.

What is the danger? Many people shop and pay bills online on a daily basis. Credit card, phone, and bank account numbers could theoretically be hacked by the drone. Stealing this data ends up costing thousands of dollars. Mr. Schmitt explained, "it adds a whole level of anonymity that these bad guys have thrived on."

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It’s not difficult to get started. Drones start at $52 on Amazon. A drone with Wi-Fi starts at approximately $400, with Best Buy’sSmart Drone: Solo selling for $1,999. With a little investment, anyone can starting “droning.” Like any new technology, drones can be used for beneficial as well as “nefarious” reasons.

Another drone approach is to hack a smartphone. The software is amusingly called “Snoopy.” There’s no beagle, but a simple web search can find “Snoopy,” which was created by Glenn Wilkinson and Daniel Cuthbert. Glenn posted on Sensepost that he wanted to see if with “the limited time and resources of a few technical minds could we create our own distributed tracking and data interception framework with functionality for simple analysis of collected data?” Obviously, they could.

The header on “Snoopy’s” file has a quote from Futurama's Professor Farnsworth: "Amy, technology isn't intrinsically good or evil. It's how it's used. Like the Death Ray." Before latching onto a Wi-Fi signal, mobile devices first check to see if any previously connected are nearby. The “Snoopy” software picks up on this and pretends to be one of those old network connections.

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“Snoopy” wasn’t the first to do this, though. Security researcher Joseph Appelbaum said the NSA has a device that “targets computers through packet injection, seeding exploits from up to 8 miles away. He even speculated the exploits could be delivered by drone, although he conceded that in most cases, an unmarked van would likely be more practical,” according to The Verge. They had this technology back in 2007 and a lot could have been improved in eight years.

Current laws don’t adequately deal with this privacy issue. In March of last year, Judge Patrick Geraghty dismissed a case where the FAA was suing someone for illegal use of a drone. The judge found that “there was no enforceable rule or regulation within the agency’s authority to restrict the use of unmanned or model aircraft,” according to the court documents.

Kent Larson is from Phoenix, Arizona. He's been happily married for 30 years. They have two sets of twins and he's been teaching for 26 years. His interests are his family, writing, reading, music, and movies. Find me at

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